Middle back pain

Not usually the most common pain that I see, but a bothersome one just the same.  Office workers report this pain the most, but it can be found in any occupation because it’s usually a symptom of improper posture.  This pain is centrally located in the thoracic spine between the shoulder blades and a bit farther down the spine.  The pain that is felt here is usually due to tightening or stretching in the rhomboid muscles between the shoulder blades, but could also be related to the trapezius, erector spinae or latissimus dorsi muscles.

Middle back pain can usually be corrected with postural changes.  These tips will help you achieve that good posture:

  • Tuck your chin in and avoid leaning into the monitor.
  • Pull your shoulders back and keep upper back straight and flat.
  • Sit with your back against the backrest.
  • Pull chair in to the desk as far as you can.  It’s important here to use your legs to walk your chair in rather than gripping the desk and pulling in with your arms.  This will aggravate middle back pain more.
  • Relax shoulders – avoid elevating or “hunching” shoulders.
  • Change position frequently in your chair.  It’s beneficial to slouch or lean forward on occasion to loosen cramped muscles and promote blood flow – just remember to come back to proper posture.
  • Adjust backrest height – the lumbar support should rest at the curve of your low back.
  • Adjust backrest tilt – the backrest tilt should be between 90-110˚.
  • Adjust the position of the seat pan – there should be 1” of space between the back of your knees and the seat pan.
  • Bring reading material close to you when reading, e.g. hold paper up instead of leaving it on the desk.

Stretching will also help.  Try this stretch for a wonderful release from tight muscles:

Seated trunk rotation

(stretches your spine for relief of mid to low back discomfort)


  • Sit facing sideways to the right
  • Place your hands on either side of the backrest
  • Slowly twist your spine to the right, pushing your right hand into the backrest
  • You should feel a slight pulling in your mid back – do not stretch to the point of pain
  • Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds
  • Repeat on the left side

Allow some time for these postural changes to alleviate your pain.  Your discomfort might even increase at first.  This is due to muscles and tendons tightening and loosening to achieve proper posture.  Once everything in your body is settled into this new natural position, your pain should subside.   Refer back to your postural tips frequently – you don’t want to settle back into bad habits if you can avoid it.


Screen time overload

How many peoples’ day goes something like this?  You get up in the morning, shower, have breakfast, and in-between you check your emails and the news using a computer, laptop, tablet or phone.  Then you go to work, during which time you are likely using your phone or tablet if you go by subway or train.  While you are at work, you spend a large amount of time on the computer.  Really when you add it up, you are on the computer 90% of your day, 95% if you eat lunch at your desk and use the computer then too.  Then you commute home with more screen time.  Eat dinner, and then likely some more screen time after dinner, and maybe even more screen time with your tablet in bed.  Then you go to bed and start it all again the next day.

Unfortunately this type of day brings the risk factor “overuse” into overdrive.  Your body cannot get a break from screen time and these parts of your body start to suffer:

  • Eyes – strain from looking at screens all day
  • Neck – from bending your head over your phone or tablet
  • Shoulders – from holding your phone or tablet and when using your laptop or computer
  • Forearms, fingers, and thumbs – from using your muscles to type, mouse, swipe, point, etc.
  • Wrists – from holding your phone or tablet

 Overuse isn’t the only risk factor.  These risk factors also come into play:

  • Force and contact stress– from gripping your phone or tablet
  • Repetitive motion and awkward postures– in the neck, forearms, wrists, fingers, and thumbs
  • Static postures – in the back, hips, and legs from sitting/being inactive too long

So what can you do?  The most important thing is to take frequent breaks from screen time.  Check your emails and the news in the morning, but limit your time to 10-15 minutes.  Don’t use your phone or tablet during your whole commute –listen to music or an audio book and give your hands a break.  Get up from your desk every hour at work – walk around the office, shake out your hands, rotate your wrists,  loosen up your neck (bring your ear to each shoulder and look over your shoulder on each side a few times).  Don’t each lunch at your desk or at the very least, don’t spend your whole lunch hour there – take a walk outside or socialize with co-workers.  Limit your screen time at home too.  Watch TV or movies so your arms are relaxed.  Or better yet, get away from all screens – take a walk, listen to music, play with your children or dog, do yoga, go for a bike ride, or just chill.  Take a break from screen time and your body will thank you.