Photo credit: Spencer Harris
The most common cause of pain in between the shoulder blades is the poor posture that most of us slip into at work, when we're driving, eating or tapping away on our phones—rounded shoulders, head forward and chest collapsed. Combine this with a sport like cycling, in which you spend long periods of time rounded over the handlebars, or swimming, which puts considerable stress through the arms and shoulders, and over time, pain can show up in the upper and mid-back.
What causes the pain?
When your upper back and shoulders are rounded forward, the shoulder blades start to pull away from each other. This over-stretches the muscles that support the shoulder blades—the rhomboids, lower traps and posterior rotator cuff muscles—causing muscle fatigue and strain.
How can you fix it?
Even though your instinct might be to stretch your upper back, this can actually make things worse. To address the imbalance that is causing the pain, you need to stretch the muscles in the chest and the fronts of your shoulders, strengthen the neck, re-position and stabilise the shoulder blades and increase mobility in the thoracic spine.
3 poses to reverse poor posture
You can practice these poses every day, separately or together, holding each of them for 5-10 breaths. The best time to stretch is when you're fully warmed up—ideally after exercise.
These poses can be fairly intense, so ease into them gently and be careful not to use force or to put yourself in any position that causes pain. Practice them every day for a few weeks and see how you feel.
If you're injured, please see a physical therapist to get the all clear before doing any of these exercises.
- Lie face down on the mat with your feet hip-width apart and your arms resting by your sides, palms facing down.
- Inhale, lift your chest, hands, arms and feet off the mat. Exhale, rotate your hands outwards and point your thumbs up to the sky.
- Push through the balls of your feet, squeeze your shoulder blades together and look down at the mat to avoid compressing the back of your neck.
- On every exhalation, draw your shoulders back even more.
- Hold the pose for 5-10 deep breaths, in and out through your nose.
- Release the pose, rest one cheek on the mat and rock your hips from side to side.
- Repeat, resting the opposite cheek on the mat when you come down.
- Sit on your mat with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat.
- Slide your hands 6-12 inches behind you. Point your fingertips forwards if you can.
- Inhale, lift your chest. Exhale, draw your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Stay in the pose for 5-10 deep breaths, in and out through your nose.
3. Cow Face Arms
- Come to cross-legged, kneeling or sit down in between your heels in Hero pose.
- Inhale, lift your right arm up alongside your ear. Exhale, bend your elbow and place your right hand between your shoulder blades, palm flat to your back.
- Sweep your left hand behind you, palm facing out and try to bring your fingertips together so they touch or grab onto each other. If you're unable to join your fingers, take hold of a strap or towel with both hands. Be careful not to force the stretch.
- Draw your abs in, sit up tall and look straight ahead. Make sure that your shoulders are level and that your spine is not bending to the left or right.
- Draw your left shoulder back to feel the stretch across the front of your left shoulder. You may have to bring your hands further apart to achieve this.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, in and out through your nose and deep into your abdomen.
- Release the pose and switch sides.
If you'd like to start incorporating 15-minute yoga sessions into your daily routine, you'll find 15 beginner sequences to increase your flexibility and relieve pain in the Yoga 15 Relaxation series. Here is the link to find out more:
If you have any other poses to share, please add them to the COMMENTS below and follow me on Instagram @yoga15abi for inspiration and motivation to stay supple and pain-free.