Understanding Neck and Back Pain

stick-figuresPeople suffer pain every day from minor to severe. Most pain people suffer comes from the neck and shoulder region or the low back. This chronic pain may be due to muscle imbalances that exist in the body.

Let’s do a simple experiment. Place your arm (elbow to finger tips) flat on a table or desk palm side up. Now, simply relax. What do you see? Most people see their fingers slightly or more than slightly curled inward. That’s because the forearm muscles that make a fist are tighter than the muscles that open the fist. This is what a simple muscle imbalance looks like. Don’t worry, everyone’s fingers curl in this manner, but you get the idea.

Now let’s look at a real- life example. First, stand up as straight as you can with arms to your side. Imagine there is a string at the top of your head and someone is pulling it straight up. Notice your bodies response to this stance. Do you stand a little taller or throw your shoulders back? If not, that’s ok.

Notice the two stick figures at the top of the page. In the first figure, the man’s torso is straight. You should look like this figure if standing straight and correct. Notice his shoulders are aligned over his hips. When hips and shoulders are aligned and rotate as intended, your pain magically disappears. Muscles are toned and in balance. In other words, your core musculature is strong.

Now look at the second figure. The head and neck have a forward tilt, the shoulders are rounded, and the upper and the lower spine have a slightly more than normal curvature. Just for fun try to mimic this posture while standing. How does it feel? Let’s return once again to the first figure stance. Stand as straight as you can be mimicking the first stick figure. Now without moving any part of you other than your neck and head, look straight down at your hands.

Are the palms facing your thighs, straight back or somewhere in between? If they do not fully face your thighs, then chances are your shoulders are rounded and you may have a chest/ back imbalance.


Muscle imbalances occur when opposing muscle groups, like the forearm flexors and extensors or the pectorals/ abdominals and the traps/rhomboids/lats, are out of balance. Usually, the chest muscles (pectorals and abdominals) are shortened causing the shoulders to round the upper spine to curve outward, the chest to draw downward, and the hips to tilt forward.

male-35320-modifiedThe corresponding back muscles like the traps, rhomboids, and lats are overstretched and weak. The body seems to collapse forward causing pain in the neck, shoulders, back and hips. Sometimes the pain if left untreated will cause a condition known as sciatica, humpback, or even Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (Carpel Tunnel).

None of these conditions are really life threatening, but they certainly can make life miserable. The good news is that therapeutic or orthopedic massage can correct, reduce or even eliminate all of these imbalances and thereby eliminated the chronic pain that ensues. No, massage is not a cure-all, and sometimes other modalities such as gentle chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, reiki and mindful physical therapy need to be used in tandem, but massage is most definitely the starting point.

Your massage therapist should be trained and skilled enough to identify and treat areas of imbalance along with setting a game plan for recovery. Your therapist should have in his or her toolbox viable referrals to other modalities that will be synergistic with the plan made for you.

We hope this article has been helpful in your search to better understand your pain. If you have any questions, please give us a call at New Life Massage & Whole Living Solution, 440-930-2044.