We can condition our muscles over time to be stronger or more enduring through exercise. The reverse is also true. We can decondition our muscles over time. For your shoulders, upper back and thoracic area this can be a result of, but not limited to, incorrect posture while sitting on a desk or the weight of your increased breasts during pregnancy. After giving birth this hunched forward posture is further exacerbated from feeding the baby for several hours a day, whether you are breast or bottle feeding, bending over to change nappies and the position you carry the baby or your toddler (you will probably notice that because you favor carrying them on one side). Unfortunately, during these times, you may also experience discomfort due to working from home or homeschooling.
As you may be spending a considerable amount of time during your day in these postures, your body is under a constant low amount of physical stress and never gets a chance to heal. When newly postpartum this is compounded by stress and a lack of sleep, which heightens inflammation.
Working on your shoulder and upper back flexibility as well as strengthening your core should help you notice a significant difference; alleviate any pain you are experiencing and help you breathe better.
The upper body is also where many of us tend to hold tension from stress and anxiety. Therefore, focusing on this area may help calm the nervous system / stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system ie your rest and digest mode.
Muscles that cannot extend to their full length and are under a constant low pressure will tighten and become weak, it is important to lengthen these muscles allowing them to regain their full range of motion. This will thereby improve physical performance.
Joanne Blackwood, senior physiotherapist at Bounce Back, in the video below explains how to minimize upper back and shoulder pain. She further highlights how to perform a series of exercises at home or when seated for a lengthy amount of time to improve flexibility.
Strengthening your core together with bringing flexibility in upper body helps to correct any muscular imbalances and improve your posture.
Here are some of the exercises we recommend to help:
Move on to tabletop with knees under hips, hands under shoulders. Inhale to arch your back (stay in neutral if in 3rd trimester), exhale to tilt your pelvis towards your ribs and round your back. Repeat.
Start in table top. Inhale, relax your core. Exhale, engage your core & bring opposite arm and leg out. Come back to start and repeat alternating sides. Your torso should stay as still as possible while the limbs move out.
SCAP PUSHUPS TO ROTATION
Start in a half plank position with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees touching the floor. Keep your head in a relaxed neutral position, in a straight line aligned with the rest of your spine. Activate your core and glutes, making sure your hips don’t sink, if you cannot engage your core in this position try four-point kneeling.
Keeping your arms straight, but not locked, try to pinch your shoulder blades together. Exhale and push your shoulder blades apart. It is a small movement.
Lift one hand up to the ceiling, twisting through your entire torso. Follow your hand with your eyes. Your pelvis will rotate, but keep it level. Bring your hand down and repeat on the other side.
Lie down on the floor, draw your shoulders down away from your ears. Lift your hands so your elbows are above your shoulders, palms facing your feet. Lift your legs with your knees bent at 90 degrees directly over your hips.
Exhale, with control slowly lowering your right arm and extending your left leg until they’re just above the floor. Only extend your leg and arm as far as you can without your back beginning to arch. If you feel your low back arching, bring your arm and leg back to center before repeating to the opposite side. Inhale, bring them back to the starting position.
If you experience a popping in the front of your hip, focus on pulling your ribs down to help provide additional stability. If the popping continues lower the leg bent instead of flat to the floor.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front. Palms on the floor with fingers spread wide and facing your feet, slightly behind & outside your hips. Press into your palms and lift your hips. Drop your shoulders away from your ears, your arms should be straight but not locked. Keep your body in a strong straight line. Hold in this position for 30 sec, activate your core. If your hips begin to sag, come back to the start position.
If you have wrist problems, you could do this exercise with your elbows and forearms on the floor.
BRIDGE WITH OVERHEAD ROTATION
Lay down on your back, bend knees and place feet flat on ground. Squeeze your glutes lifting your hips and entire back up off ground up to become a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Do not hyperextend. Bring one arm up and across your body to the opposite side.