Tender, achy shoulders, a tightness around your upper back and shoulders which reach your ears… all sound familiar? Upper back pain is a common complaint after pregnancy but the good news is that there’s several things you can do to help alleviate it.
Upper back pain for post-natal women is incredibly common. And it’s no surprise why; whether or not you’re breast-feeding your breasts are heavier which pulls you forward, your core is weakened, if you’re carrying your baby in a sling or wrap, the weight of the baby also pulls you forward – and all this forward pull rounds our shoulders and changes our posture. And if you’re breast-feeding, unless technique is spot-on (bringing baby to the breast as opposed to the other way around) there can be the tendency to hunch over. The additional new mum stresses also make us tense which goes straight to our shoulders which can also be the cause of headaches; the last thing you need when you’re already dealing with sleepless nights and the chaos of trying to work out how to look after your baby and stay sane.
These three strengthening exercises and stretches will help you release tension and support your upper back. You can also incorporate pelvic floor exercises into the row, thus killing two birds with one stone. That’s multi-tasking for you…!
This primarily works the main back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (more commonly known as ‘lats’), rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius and the teres major and minor. By strengthening these, we can help improve our posture, keeping our shoulders back and re-aligning our body better.
With a resistance band looped around a sturdy door handle or fence* keep your knees soft and slightly bent, weight evenly distributed across your feet. Position your shoulders down and back and draw the resistance band tight, pulling your elbows back. When you’ve taken them as far back as you can manage, slowly extend your arms again and repeat. Adjust the tension on the resistance band to suit your strength levels. Exhale as you pull your elbows back, drawing your pelvic floor together and up and release fully on the inhale as your elbows straighten.
Repeat 8 times for 3 sets.
* If you don’t have a sturdy place to loop your resistance band over, you can sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Loop one end of the band over your feet to create tension, sit up straight and take the band in each hand and continue the exercise instructions from here.
This is a fantastic exercise which stretches your pectorals - your chest muscle which sits underneath your breasts - which can become tight if your shoulders are rounded forwards.
Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Position your arms at 90’ to your body on the floor so they’re at the same level as your shoulders and bend your elbows at 90’ with your palms facing the ceiling. Feel the connection points of your hands and elbows against the floor. Relax into the stretch, trying to get as much of your arm to connect with the ground as possible. Slowly, sliding your arm along the floor, straighten your arms so they’re above your head but still touching the ground. Then bring them back to the starting position. See if you can keep your hands and elbows touching the floor throughout this exercise, but don’t force it. Repeat 8 times.
Whilst exercises are fantastic to help strengthen muscles, stretches are often underrated, yet as a new mum, taking the time to release tension, especially in our shoulders will make a world of difference to our posture, and even to our breathing. By opening up our chest, this gives our ribs the freedom to expand more easily and fill up our lungs.
Place a foam roller or rolled up yoga mat on the floor**. If you’re using a foam roller, place a cushion on either side of it at one end to keep it stable. Place a cushion or pillow directly on the foam roller at the other end and a blanket or extra cushion for your head. Sit with your lower back against the end of the foam roller and slowly lie back. Make sure you’re using your arms for support as your lower yourself down as you don’t want to put too much strain on your abdominals. Position your arms out to the side and relax into the stretch; you should feel it along the front of the shoulders and chest. Every time you exhale, relax even further. If it feels like too much of a stretch, you can place extra pillows or folded blankets under your arms. Stay here for as long as is comfortable. When you return to sitting, make sure you roll to your side first to protect your weakened stomach muscles.
** If you don’t have either of these, you can pile up some cushions.
These exercises and stretches take less than 10 minutes and are wonderful for releasing tension gathered around our shoulders and chest. By helping to reduce the strain we feel in our shoulders and open our chest, we can dramatically improve confidence and posture too. As mums, we spend so much time looking after others that we forget about ourselves. But in order to look after others, we first of all have to look after ourselves. Take a few minutes out of your day to try these stretches and exercises and let us know how they make you feel.