A brief reflection on a backache

Over the past week, my yoga practice hasn’t been what it used to be like.  I have been experiencing a recurring strain of the upper back.  The pain itself is located between my left shoulder blade and spine.  Upon treating it with a menthol-camphor cream and practicing minimally for a couple days, the pain lessens, then becomes undetectable.  I feel compelled to report a few surprising observations in order to document my approach to recovery.

Rhomboid muscle group (shown in red) connects the thoracic vertebrae to the scapula.  Image cited: Häggström, Mikael (2014).

After browsing through Yoga Anatomy by Lesley Kaminoff and Amy Matthews, I self-diagnosed my condition as a sprain of the rhomboid muscle group.  Secondary to the backache, my ability to recruit the muscles of the hips and abdomen was also impaired.  The only plausible explanation for this outcome was that the spine serves to mediate the forces between the upper and lower torso.  The maxim, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction” accurately conveys how a release of tension in one location can cause weakness in a distant site.  Although Issac Newton did not openly muse about uddiyana bandha, his insight is super applicable to core stability.  Evidently, in addition to preforming isolated movements, muscle strength is required to reconcile forces which would otherwise compromise our musculature.

The major psoas connects the lumbar vertebrae to the femur. Image cited: Hudson, Laura (2014).

There are several major muscles groups which are intimately connected to stability of the upper back, one of which is the psoas and another is the rectus abdominis (i.e. the abs).  Both are attached to the axial skeleton, and therefore it does not surprise me that any attempt to perform a bow pose or abdominal lift would be hindered by a sudden loss of rhomboid tone.  This recent adverse event has impressed upon me that, if I’d like to maximize my time spent on the mat, then I need to avoid re-injuring my left rhomboid.  Right now, I am in the process of easing myself back on track to practice 90 minutes of Ashtanga Vinyasa.  The experience continues to teach me the importance of careful observation.


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