A lot of Rolfing clients come to see me complaining of upper back and neck pain. One possible culprit is something I call “stress breathing.” Do you ever shrug your shoulders up by your ears to take an inhale and drop the shoulders on the exhale? I’ve noticed many of us breath this way when we are stressed out or are not supported well while sitting or standing. This way of breathing recruits the trapezius, scalenes, and levator scapula muscles (to name a few) to lift the ribcage instead of allowing the diaphragm to do the work. You end up with chronically overworked muscles that hurt.
Try this: put your hands in your armpits. Can you feel your ribs moving into your hands as you breath? Do you notice your chest and upper back moving in response to the breath? Are your shoulders shrugging up and down? What if your shoulders rested on your rib cage and just went along for the ride?
This type of diaphragmatic breathing can have a profound effect on your nervous system and can ease your neck and upper back. Give it a try!