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Question
Posted by: Hiker | 2009-05-01

Lower Neck / Upper Back Pain

I am 66 y.o.a. and once a week (only) do a hike varying in length between 6 and 12 kms. Some are more strenuous than others and I find lately when doing a stiff ascent/descent that I start experiencing pain between my shoulder blades. I' m very careful to look where I' m placing my feet to avoid a fall and because my head is therefor leaning down a lot, I feel this may be causing a certain amount of " pull"  on my neck. I am also careful to not " overload"  my backpack and, compared to some of my fellow hikers, my pack is reasonably light. I have found though that when I' ve experienced the pain, by removing my pack and carrying it in my hand(s), the pain is relieved to somewhat. Do you have any suggestions as to the cause and cure for this pain? Thank you.

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Our expert says:
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Hi Hiker

I'd agree that your head position is most likely the cause of the pain, allied with the heavier load, even though you're mindful of packing correctly. certainly the fact that your pain is alleviated when you take the back off the back is part of it. If the muscles of the upper back are weak, then they have to work that much harder to support the load, and then on top of this, if you are straining the neck down to look ahead of you, it aggravates the problem.

So this is most likely the cause. So a possible remedy would be to work at strengthening the upper back and shoulders. Now I'm not sure what access you have to equipment, but things like the lat pull down machine in the gym would help, as would upright rows, even rowing, and shoulder press. These are machines that you can get easily at a gym, not sure if that's any help to you. Also the core, because if the core is weak, then the back has to carry more weight than it should (or is capable of), so all round strengthening of these areas - upper back and core would help you, I think.

I hope that helps a little, and that you have access to the kind of equipment you might need. Alternatively, you need to look at changing the back pack set up, the straps, the load distribution and through trial and error, find what works for you. One thing that will happen is that if you reduce the load and keep walking you'll get stronger and then eventually be able to return to the current load without the problem. This is like a functional strength programme.

Good luck

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