Do you suffer from pain between the shoulder blades and tightness in the upper back, neck and shoulders? Hours on the bike with your arms stretched out in front of you—absorbing impact from the trail, combined with sitting at a desk and life stress, creates the perfect storm for soreness in between the shoulder blades. And it’s nowhere near as much fun riding when you’re in constant low grade pain.
WHAT CAUSES PAIN BETWEEN THE SHOULDER BLADES?
When your upper back and shoulders are consistently rounded forward, your shoulder blades start to slide away from each other. This over-stretches and weakens the muscles that connect your spine to your shoulder blades—your rhomboids and traps (mid-back), posterior deltoids (backs of the shoulders) and levator scapulae (back and sides of the neck). Muscles spasm from the fatigued muscles shoot pain along the edges of the shoulder blades and up the neck.
HOW CAN YOU FIX PAIN BETWEEN THE SHOULDER BLADES?
Counter-intuitively, stretching your upper back will only temporarily ease the pain and can often make things worse. To address the imbalance that is causing your pain, you need to improve mobility in the thoracic spine (mid-back), stretch your chest and the fronts of your shoulders, and re-align and stabilise your shoulder blades.
1. INCREASE T-SPINE MOBILITY
A healthy spine can bend forwards, backwards, side to side and twist—easily and without resistance. Unfortunately, if we stop accessing these ranges of motion regularly, the joints and tissues stiffen up. So if you sit with poor posture and/or spend long stretches rounded over your handlebars, you are likely to experience tightness, especially in your mid-back. An immobile thoracic spine also has implications for proper breathing patterns, as it restricts diaphragm and lung capacity. It’s therefore important that you pay attention to this area if you think this might be an issue for you.
Come to all fours. Bring your wrists directly underneath your shoulders and your hips right above your knees. Inhale, arch your spine, drop your belly, lift your chest and look up. Exhale, round your back, drop your head, tuck your chin to your chest and draw your abs in. Repeat 4-8 times, inhaling into Cow, and exhaling into Cat—each time trying to improve your range of motion a little more, especially at your mid-back.
Come back up to all fours. Inhale, sweep your right hand up to the sky, look up to your fingertips. Exhale, thread your right hand under your left arm, palm facing up. Rest your head and right shoulder on the mat. Bring the palm of your left hand to your sacrum. Seal your lips and stay in the pose for 5-10 deep breaths, breathing in and out through your nose. Release the pose and repeat on the other side.
2. STRETCH YOUR CHEST AND THE FRONTS OF YOUR SHOULDERS
COW FACE POSE VARIATION
Kneel or sit cross-legged. 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 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. Release the pose and switch sides.
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. Take a break for a few seconds and repeat. You can do this exercise in almost any seated position, several times a day.
3. REPOSITION AND STABILISE YOUR SHOULDER BLADES
Lie face down on the mat with your feet hip-width apart and your arms resting by your sides, palms facing up. Interlace your hands behind your back and press the tops of your feet into the mat. Inhale, lift your chest. Exhale, draw your shoulders back—squeezing your shoulder blades together. Look down at the mat and be careful not to compress the back of your neck. Hold the pose for 5-10 deep breaths, in and out through your nose. Keep pressing your feet into the mat. Repeat the pose 2-3 times.
Lie face down on the mat with your feet hip-width apart and your arms resting by your sides, palms facing down. Lift your chest, hands and arms. Outwardly rotate your shoulders and turn your thumbs up to the sky. Draw your shoulders back, lengthen your neck and look down at the mat. Then lift your legs and press back through the balls of your feet. Squeeze your glutes and draw your shoulders back. Hold the pose for 5 deep breaths, in and out through your nose. Repeat the pose 2-3 times.
5 VIDEOS TO RELIEVE PAIN BETWEEN THE SHOULDER BLADES
If you suffer from pain in between the shoulder blades, let me know how you get on with these poses and what you’ve discovered, so that we can refine this sequence for other riders in the same boat.
Cover photo: Spencer Harris