Back pain between shoulder blades
November 28, 2012 3:51 PM   Subscribe

I am a 47 year old female & have a office job where I sit at a computer all day. I started having back pain in my middle back right between my shoulder blades after lifting some boxes down from a high shelf about a month ago. I have always noticed my lower back is curved, if I stand up against a wall I can not press my lower back against it. When I exercise doing pilates I really have to concentrate on keeping my lower back pressed down and not arching. I bought a lumbar back support cushion for my office chair so I can sit back and have support in my lower back. What kind of exercises could I do to help with this constant ache in my back?
posted by just asking to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It has always seemed to me that walking uphill or climbing stairs really works out at least some of the muscles in my back.
posted by XMLicious at 3:55 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may have come across this already, but I have a similar problem and founds some of the suggestions in this thread helpful.
posted by lovableiago at 3:55 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ask your employer to buy a stepladder. Reaching over your head for any amount of weight is dangerous.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:58 PM on November 28, 2012

Your lower back is supposed to be curved. Here's a picture of what a neutral spine position should look like. Not saying you don't have a problem - it's certainly likely that you do - but the curve of your lower back is probably not it. Ask your Pilates instructor to work with you to figure out what a neutral, supported position feels like - it's not entirely obvious, and you don't want to force it in either direction.

As for the pain in your back, if it's been going on for a month, you should check with a doctor. It's quite possible that you have some sort of acute injury that continuing to exercise will only make worse.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:00 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are doing Pilates at a studio, ask your Pilates trainer. If they're good, this is the kind of thing they should be trained in.

This does not, of course, substitute for a visit to a doctor and perhaps a physical therapist.
posted by matildaben at 4:10 PM on November 28, 2012

I often have pain between my shoulders that is actually coming from my neck, so I wouldn't rule that out as a possibility. Seconding restless-nomad's suggestion of asking for help from your Pilates instructor and perhaps escalating to a physical therapist if need be. I found out I was carrying my head too far forward and my shoulders up too high and had to relearn how to have correct posture with my head back and shoulders lowered.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 4:10 PM on November 28, 2012

It could be your heart if combined with shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or a family history. Note that pain between the shoulder blades is a warning sign in many heart attacks, especially females.
posted by Brian B. at 4:18 PM on November 28, 2012

Definitely check first to make sure you don't have an injury because working out on an unsupervised injury is a bad idea, but:

I like to do a variety of exercises aimed at various parts of my back (my lower back is what gives me problems, but holistic strength is important to curing local problems). Seated rowing, biking, roman chair "reverse sit-ups," various exercise machines, squats, etc. and then stretches. Whenever I let too much time pass between exercise days, my back lets me know since it really needs these strengthening exercises.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:26 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you considered doing weighted exercises to really strengthen your back? Start with a little weight and work yourself up. I'm not sure how much strength you can actually build with pilates, and a weak back causes bad posture, and is always going to be prone to injury. As your back gets stronger, your posture will improve automatically and unconsciously.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:32 PM on November 28, 2012

Nthing working out your back muscles. I found Pilates pretty useless for strengthening, I need to do more serious workouts to keep my back reasonably happy. I do bodyweight exercises these days a couple times a week, but weighted exercises with a trainer or experienced friend at first are good too. So is swimming in front crawl. You don't have to become a body builder but you want to have palpable muscle tone in your back, visible muscles or ones you can easily feel. It'll make a huge difference, especially as we get older.
posted by fshgrl at 4:39 PM on November 28, 2012

I am more and more certain that sitting on chairs with castors that scoot around is a major reason for bad backs. Also the idea we need to lean back and have support.

Do not use a chair with wheels. Get a big solid old wooden chair and do not lean back. Ever. Sit up comfortably straight. Above all, don't use a chair that scoots around under you.

Another option is the kneeling chair. You can often find these used because people buy them and don't spend the time it takes to adjust to them. Some of them are unaccountably on wheels, but those can be removed and replaced with feet thingies. Nice bonus: a kneeling chair can be hidden completely away under your desk when not being used.

Yet another option is to convert to a standing desk.
posted by zadcat at 5:08 PM on November 28, 2012

See a qualified physiotherapist for a full postural assessment, and receive a clear plan for avoiding a great deal of future pain and debility. It's a practicl certainty that you have some musculoskeletal misalignments going on, which is quite normal; there is scarcely a 47 year old woman in existence without them, regardless of athletic accomplishments. It is overwhelmingly likely that all you need to do is consistently strengthen your posterior musculature and stretch your anterior musculature in order to better align your default posture with the demands of gravity. No amount of bracing aids, anti-inflammatories, painkillers or surgery will solve this problem: only an appropriate and safe regimen of corrective exercise will do it.

Below are some resources you can scan through to get a sense of the issue. It's entirely possible to learn enough to fix all but the most advanced postural dysfunctions; but if you haven't got the time or confidence to do it yourself, then outsource it to a good physio who very likely fixes up a dozen people in your exact situation every week:

Full Postural Assessment Guide
Video: MobilityWOD on working posture
How To Fix Neck Pain Upper Back Pain, Shoulder Pain, Rotator Cuff, and Tightness
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:12 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Doing Roman Chair reverse sit-ups as vagartanipla mentioned may be unwise. There has been much written about the tremendous and potentially dangerous stess this exercise puts on lower lumbar discs. Read this. At the very least do some research about this exercise. Also, be aware that overstrengthening the abs can create an imbalance and cause more back problems.
posted by PaulBGoode at 7:28 PM on November 28, 2012

Also, be aware that overstrengthening the abs hip flexors can create an imbalance and cause more back problems.

FTFY. Hypertensive abs can indeed exacerbate lower back problems in cases of posterior pelvic tilt. In the much more common opposite case of anterior pelvic tilt (which is very likely what the OP is dealing with if she has an exaggerated lumbar curve), stronger abs are a key part of the solution. The tricky part is strengthening the abs without simultaneously strengthening/shortening the problematically tight hip flexors, which is not possible via the usual crappy 'core' exercises of situps, crunches, leg raises, etc. Compound lifting, planks of all varieties and Janda situps are the right way to go about it.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:05 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. You might have lordosis-- in which case you'd need to do various stretches and exercises to make the areas around your core stronger and more limber. Check out the book Back Care Basics by Mary Schatz. Also good are DIY traction exercises you can do in your home, as seen here:

2. Chairs in our society are actually ergonomically bad for the back and should have been innovated hundreds or thousands of years ago. Try sitting on an exercise ball, if your office will allow it. This actually strengthens the back and ab muscles and burns calories while you sit on it, and actually improves concentration (I'm sitting on one as I write). Some school systems in other countries have swapped out all their chairs for these balls. GAIAM makes a ball chair-- a ball inside a chair on wheels-- for about $90 which fits people 5'11 and under.

3. This article provides some more info:

4. If you can't sit on a ball, you could look into back friendly eco furniture. Here is one site:
I believe you can find it for cheaper, or even make your own.

5. Oh-- and also Qi Gong done regularly can work wonders. Check out Lee Holden's series of videos. Particularly Qi Gong for Lower Back and Upper Back.

Good luck, and I hope your back gets better.
posted by cotesdurhone at 8:15 PM on November 28, 2012

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