Reducing Upper Back and Neck Pain


There is an epidemic of chronic pain in our culture. It is understandable that we focus on locations that are painful:

  • Back of the neck
  • Upper back and area in between the shoulder blades
  • Upper traps and shoulders

These areas are all strained by head forward posture and rounding of the shoulders. It is useful to provide relief for these areas, both in treatment and with at-home self care. However, lasting relief comes from correcting the underlying postural issues.

Most of us can “assume the position” of relatively correct posture. Many of us try to do this throughout the day, but we do it incorrectly. All of the examples below illustrate a normal human adaptation to hold our Center Of Gravity (COG) over our Base Of Support (BOS). In most of them, this was initiated by a more basic challenge to the COG such as rounded shoulders:

posture examples

Our instinct to align our BOS with our COG of gravity feels good – at first. However, over time, it becomes a maladaption that causes a cascade of chronic pain and limited range of motion.

The Czech rehabilitation specialist Dr. Vladimir Janda coined the term Upper Crossed Syndrome for a common series of degenerative changes that happen in the upper body.

upper crossed syndrome

In this increasingly common condition the normal balance of muscles between the front and rear of the shoulder girdle is disrupted. The combination of muscles that are too weak or too tight to their job destabilizes the entire neck, shoulder and upper back.

So how do we fix it? There are three components to beginning almost any upper body postural correction and reducing pain:

  1. Move the head back over the spine by strengthening the deep cervical flexors in the front of the neck
  2. Open the connective tissue and muscles of the chest wall with targeted compression and stretches of the pec minor, intercostals and abdominal muscles.
  3. Strengthen the depressors of the shoulder – the lower traps and serratus anterior

By doing these three things we begin to achieve:

  1. Reduced strain behind the neck
  2. Reduced strain between the shoulder blades
  3. Reduced strain on the upper traps and shoulders

Reducing strain in these areas relieves pain. It is a simple method and it works. We continue to use and improve this approach to treating upper back, neck and shoulder pain with great success. Everyone is different and many of us have additional challenges and complications, We tailor our treatment plans to the individual, but there are common foundations to this work with everyone.

Email us at or call us at 630 858-0000 to learn more about how you can reduce pain, increase flexibility and gain strength from simple self-care activities.