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  • Samantha Ruby, DPT

preventing NECK AND UPPER BACK PAIN

Updated: Feb 25

Since the stay-at-home orders for Covid-19 began in March 2020, the majority of the population has been working from home or attending school through online distance-learning . This shift towards a more sedentary lifestyle definitely limits our activity and fitness levels. Prolonged sitting at our desks or in front of the television watching Netflix has led to sub-optimal sitting posture and positions. This can often times have an adverse effect on one's spine resulting in pain with certain positions and movements. The avoidance of these painful positions and movements can ultimately create a viscous cycle of fear avoidance, which can lead to chronic pain. Taking steps to maintain your spine health is arguably more important now than ever before.



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Cervical Spine



The cervical spine, or neck, is made up of 7 vertebrae (C1 through C7). The top of the cervical spine connects to the skull while the bottom connects to the thoracic spine around the level of the shoulders. The cervical spine is designed to move in all 3 planes of motion: frontal, sagittal, and transverse. Simply put, you should be able to move your head up and down, left and right, and side to side. The chin can also “slide” forward and back known as cervical protraction and retraction.



To maintain or improve your spine health, it is important to move your neck through its entire range of motion. Failing to move your neck or stretch the muscles supporting your head can result in higher levels of joint stiffness and decreased length of surrounding musculature. These issues can ultimately lead to neck pain, headaches, dizziness, or radiating pain down the arms.


Below are some stretches you can perform to help maintain and improve your neck mobility:



Upper Trapezius Stretch

*Add the weight of your hand for over-pressure as tolerated




Levator Scapulae Stretch

*Add the weight of your hand for over-pressure as tolerated




Supine Cervical Retraction or “Chin Tucks”


Thoracic Spine



The area of the spine between your neck and low back is referred to as the thoracic spine. It consists of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12) and serves as an attachment site for the ribs and many muscles. Although the range of motion can vary significantly for each vertebral level, the thoracic spine is generally less mobile than other areas of the spine.


Similar to the neck, the thoracic spine can be affected by prolonged sitting and forward head posturing. Unfortunately, most of our daily activities do not involve full motion of this area, which can make us prone to experiencing stiffness and pain. Poor thoracic mobility and muscle flexibility can lead to pain up and down the spine at the neck, shoulders, and lower back. The good news is that if we can focus on moving this area of the spine through its full range of motion more often, the likelihood of resulting stiffness and pain is significantly reduced.

Below are some exercises you can perform to help maintain or improve your thoracic mobility:


Seated Cat/Camel with "Goal Post Arms"

*If you experience any shoulder discomfort, try the modified arm version shown towards the end of this video


Seated Thoracic Rotation




Seated Thoracic Extension with Chair Fulcrum





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