Tips for upper back problems

Movement in the heart of the envelope

How do we teach the upper back to reorganize without the need to lift the shoulders up all the time?

And how is all this related to Dr. Ida Rolf and to the method she has developed – Structural Integration?

In many of us the upper part of the back tends to be held up for a long time without any physical need.

Holding this position in the upper back for a long period of time creates adhesions in the connective tissues that surround the muscles.

The upper back is not supposed to stay up, but when we get used to holding up the shoulders and the shoulder blades, and folding the chest in a little bit (as a way of protecting the neck and sometimes as a refusal reaction of the body to different subjects), and we do it for a long time, adhesions are created in the fascia – the connective tissues that envelop the muscles.

The adhesions preserve these holdings as if the body is helping us: “since that’s what you always do so now I do it already for you.”

This process reminds me of the cookies files in the computer. They make a short cut – someone is learning our behavior and he comes half the way towards us.
In the computer we can clean the cookie files which means it will now take a longer time to reach where we are heading but it will go through many more options.

Can we wipe out the adhesions that force our upper back up and our chest in?
Can we stop the body moving towards kyphosis? – that hump which frequently is not unavoidable but rather the outcome of a the wrong use of the body?

A change within ten meetings
During the years many methods were developed to teach the body to be more free and have a better posture, but there is one method that knows to “wipe out” the adhesions or better say – that knows to wipe out all the adhesions in the muscle envelopes and of course those that force our upper back up – this method is called “Structural Integration” and it was developed by Dr. Ida Rolf (1896 – 1979) in the last century in the U.S.A.

Dr. Rolf who was a front line scientist in biochemistry and in physiology, found the possibility to open the adhesions of the connective tissues. The central finding that stands in the foundation of her system is that exact pressure on the adhesions in the connective tissues creates the heat that melts the adhesions.

She also found that if you add to the pressure a very slow and attentive movement you can stretch up the fascia (the connective tissue that envelops the muscles) and thereby regain the lost length of the fascia and the muscle.

The treatment with the Structural Integration method developed by Dr. Rolf takes only ten sessions. These sessions are structured so that they start from the outside in (starting from the outside layers of the body and reaching the center in the spine area) – like unfolding onion peels and from bottom to top somewhat like building a building.

This structured process “knows” how to avoid a dangerous imbalance and “knows” how to structure the new organization of the body stage after stage, one layer on top of the other, (Dr. Rolf divided the body into segments: for instance the foot, and on top of it the lower leg and on top of it the thigh and so on till the top of the head).

The ten sessions of the Structural Integration process includes three meetings in which the emphasis is on the correct use of the reorganized structure of the body.
The learning relates to the use of the central axis and to the correct use of each of the segments so that they are always organized one on top of the other, center above center.
In these last three sessions new movement and posture possibilities are revealed as a result of the opening of the adhesions in the fascia. Learning and exercising the new movement is obligatory in order to own the change in posture and in the way of using of the muscles.

Keeping the change
Could we open adhesions without the Structural Integration of Dr. Rolf?
The answer is yes, but it will not be in the exclusive and structured way and not with the same effect as the Structural Integration would be.

One can open adhesions in the fascia with pressure alone (for instance by putting a tennis ball under the body and the body’s weight will produce the pressure). What will be missing in order to reach the goal set up by Dr. Rolf will be the active movement during that pressure and the accuracy of the amount and direction of the pressure, especially when it refers to deep muscles.  Not every muscle is reachable in this way, for instance some of the neck muscles or a hidden muscle like the subscapularis are non-reachable.

According to the existing records of treatment success, after a while, the body looks and feels even better than immediately after the end of the ten session series, especially with those who keep the new information alive in their life.

 The Tips
Before, during and of course after the structural Integration treatment, you can contribute a lot to the health of the upper back by using a few simple movements and thoughts.
(You can see these tips in the video below)

Tip 1: The ribs
Pay attention to any movement while just breathing: usually we will immediately recognize a movement in the belly – it goes out a little while breathing in, and what is happening with the ribs? Is there a movement there? Do you feel them widening to the sides and even to the back?
Take a breath – not a big one, just normal and allow the ribs to rise up – note what happened to your posture – did you recognize it becoming longer and straighter?

When the chest bone is rising up with all the ribs that are connected to it, the upper back must go down! It cannot work differently because the front and the back are connected in such a way that when the front rises up the back drops down and vice versa.

Can you recognize this relationship?
Feeling the chest bone rising up in the breathing in (a very small movement, maybe one millimeter, but if you are bent forward it will look like a very big movement because all the back will straighten up and the chest will rise up.) makes all the difference between staying with an upper back that has raised up to an upper back that returned down and a chest bone that found its place up.

Tip 2: From the side of the back 
Sit on a chair and let your head drop down and slowly forward.
Now straighten yourself up again. Did you start the straightening up from your head?  If you did, that is the wrong movement! The head should be the last segment to come back to its place.
When you start coming back from your head you create an exaggerated neck curve and the head doesn’t reach its proper place on top of the chest, instead it arrives at a point which is in front of the chest.
Holding the head in this position (in front of the chest) demands a lot of muscle effort; in time this will create adhesions along the line that connects the head with the neck.

The right way to straighten up starts with the shoulder blades. Try this movement again: sit on the chair, allow your head to drop slowly down and forward and now slowly start to come up by sending your shoulder blades down and feeling each vertebrae coming down – back to its correct place, the head will arrive the last to its place in a natural way – no need to lift it up at all. In fact you only need to release it a little after it already came on top of the chest, so that the chin will not continue to stick in.
It is good to repeat this exercise from time to time to remind yourself that the correct way for your head to find its place up on top of your chest is by sending the back side down – starting with the shoulder blades.

Tip 3: Attention
This tip is about attention – just recognize when you lift your shoulders up unnecessarily (almost in all our movements there is no need to lift the shoulders; they only need to rise up when we lift our arms up all the way.)
Just recognizing this automatic lifting usually takes care of the problem. It means that when I realize that I am lifting my shoulders up unnecessarily, I also bring them back down.

You might notice this automatic lifting during working hours in the office, in front of television, in driving and in any other time/activity. Notice how the body responds immediately when you remember – paying attention.
The first few days of realizing these automatic movements are not so comfortable, it is almost scary to see how it operates by itself and doesn’t stop doing it even when I realize it.
But these strong feelings are the sign of a coming change, because it means you care about it so you will remember again and again and eventually you will acquire a new habit – a habit of paying attention which leads to letting the shoulders drop down. One or two more days of frustration and it is done – you no longer lift up unnecessarily because even before you do it you remember, and you let go.
Your shoulders should be “pouring” down on your sides – that is the correct organized structure.

Tip 4: Pulling the shoulders down.
This is a very easy exercise to do and yet not so easy to explain.
You can do it in standing or sitting. The aim of this exercise is to prevent adhesions in the fascia of those muscles that tend to lift the shoulders automatically and to build up the opposite habit.
Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and press them down towards the floor.

This will create a stretch in the neck/shoulder junction. This is the opposite movement of the lifting – therefore it will stretch the fascia folds and prevent the adhesions occurring. Hold this stretch for two seconds and release. Do it ten times, three times a day.

Enjoy the exercises and you can see them as well in the video.



About avibahatblog

• מוסמך כמורה לשיטת פאולה • מדריך מתקדם לאינטגרציה מבנית של אידה רולף, ומודעות מבנית של רולף/נולטה. • מוסמך כמטפל וכמורה (Instructor) בשיטת טרייגר. • מלמד את שיטת בחט- טיפול במגע ותנועה. בין לבין למדתי במחלקה להשתלמויות המשך של אוניברסיטת ת"א בתרפיית הגשטלט
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Tips for upper back problems

  1. Eric says:

    I find this post very interesting and helpful, but it also leaves me with some questions. The repositioning of the upper part of the torso (which, to me, feels more like a backward tilt of the shoulders and head than just a lifting of the chest bone, the pivotal point seems to be a bit behind the thoracic vertebrae) leaves my head resting straight over the backbone and pelvis, allowing me to be balanced on my feet, seemingly without any use of muscles. This gives a sensation of effortlessly defying gravity, very nice. It also leaves my arms and shoulders automatically hanging down, albeit a bit more forward than I used to keep them for years and years (and I’m 51 years of age). Over the past days it is easier and easier to return to this position. However, there seem to be some places ‘resisting’ the change, most notably high up in the neck. Now, in your opinion, is it at all possible to structurally change ones posture without any intervention from outside? Can the adhesions you’re writing about be loosened, just by adopting another posture? Or will there always be a residue, influencing posture and possibilities for movement?

    Thanks and best regards,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s