As I stated in a prior post, I’ve recently started having some fairly serious upper back pain. The pain is localized in the upper trapezius area and flares up about 20-30 minutes into a run. I have had this injury before and thought that I had it under control by doing some trapezius strengthening exercises (i.e. shrugs).
However, the pain is back with a vengeance, so I decided to take a trip to a physical therapist.
A Surprising Diagnosis
Prior to my appointment, I thought that the therapist would recommend the standard strengthening exercises that other therapists have suggested to me for upper back pain, such as doing overhead shrugs, and “push-ups plus” type routines.
However, instead of suggesting that I strengthen the muscles on the outside of my rib cage, she felt that I should focus on my internal core muscles that assist with my breathing.
She took a look at my breathing patterns and felt that my short, weak breathing was causing all sorts of problems with my upper back muscles. Instead of using the powerful diaphragm muscle to work my lungs, my upper neck and back muscles, such as the trapezius and scalenes were doing most of the work.
These muscles are not designed to be the primary muscles for breathing, so they were getting incredibly overworked.
The Balloon Method
In order to fix my faulty breathing pattern, the physical therapist prescribed an exercise known as the 90/90 Hip Lift with Balloon. This exercise involves lying on your back with your feet on the wall. After creating a slight hip lift, you breath in and blow into the balloon.
After you have breathed out fully, paused with your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Don’t let any air from the balloon come back into your mouth, and don’t pinch the balloon to keep air out of your mouth. After four seconds, inhale and repeat. This video does a much better job of actually showing how this exercise is done:
Does the Balloon Method Work?
The short answer for me: It is too soon to tell. I’ve only been doing the exercise for a few days. Although I think that my back feels a bit better, this may be the placebo effect. I think it will take weeks for me to know whether my faulty breathing is the reason for my upper trapezius pain.
As always, I’ll keep you updated.