Welcome to Part 4, the final interview of this Piano Teacher Wellness series, in which we’re addressing the issues that cause neck and back pain from spending hours each day participating in online piano lessons and other online classes.
I interviewed my physical therapist, Stephanie Elkins, DPT, to learn more about how we can prevent these pain and posture issues.
In this series, Stephanie is answering my questions about the causes of “Tech Neck” (the rounded shoulders and hunched back we’re all so familiar with), how to strengthen the weak muscles that contribute to back and neck problems, and how to reverse the painful issues that stem from spending so much time sitting in front of our devices with less than ideal posture.
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The rest of this article is in interview format. Please enjoy this informative and enlightening question and answer session between my sister Stephanie and I.
Melody: In our previous three articles, we’ve discussed strengthening the neck and upper back and stretching the anterior muscles, and the important role they each play in eliminating pain and discomfort, as well as contributing to correct posture.
I’m feeling stronger each week, and I’m also feeling more aware of my body and what it’s trying to say to me when I allow it to slouch into an uncomfortable posture. I’m really looking forward to learning more in this interview!
What tips do you have for us this week, Stephanie?
Stephanie: In Part 3 of this series, we talked about stretching the anterior muscles and opening the chest by using doorway stretches.
This week, we’ll be working to stabilize and strengthen the lower back.
Melody: So far in our discussions, we’ve been focusing on strengthening and stretching. How do stabilization and strengthening of the lower back fit into the overall equation?
Stephanie: The stabilization and strengthening of the lower back help you maintain the lumbar extension (ability to arch your back backwards) range of motion. This also stretches the abdominals because they’ve been in the tight forward closed position, like we mentioned in the previous discussion.
This also stretches the front, and compresses the back. We’re working on the normal vertebral movement of your spine so your back can maintain a healthy level of motion in your lower back.
Melody: How can we work on that lumbar range of motion, the stabilization, and the strengthening of the lower back?
Stephanie: Prone pushups will help with all of that.
When you do prone pushups, you’re working on stabilization. You’re working on strengthening the scapular stabilizers (muscles of the posterior shoulder), and you’re also stretching the low compressed muscles (hip flexors, abs, etc.) that are compressed in the forward flexed posture.
Melody: This is exactly what I need! I’ve been feeling tightness in my hip flexors lately, so I’m especially excited about today’s exercise. How do we get started?
Stephanie: Start by getting into a “prone on elbows” position. This is an excellent exercise for scapular retraction and cervical extension because being in this position forces you into scapular retraction and forces you to hold your head up.
When you’re comfortable and ready, and you want a deeper stretch, push up onto your hands into a prone pushup. The more you extend the elbows, the greater the stretch you’ll get. This addresses your back extensors and stretches your abs and your hip flexors.
Doing prone pushups from your hands also stretches your cervical flexors and works on your lumbar extension. Prone pushups address lots of important areas of the body!
How to Perform Prone Pushups
Stephanie: To perform prone pushups correctly, lie face down on the floor, couch, bed, etc. A firmer surface such as a yoga mat on the floor is preferred, but you can use the couch or the bed if needed. Push your body weight up onto your forearms.
To make it more challenging and to get a deeper and better stretch, push your body weight onto your hands and straighten your elbows.
Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, depending on your comfort level. Listen to your body. You want to feel a stretch, not pain.
Do 1 set of 3 repetitions. Repeat 2-3 times a day. After a day or two, your muscles may feel a little sore, but that is normal and expected.
A special thank you to Kacee Rose, LPTA, for demonstrating the correct performance of this exercise in the following video.
- Stephanie’s favorite pain relieving gel
- Stephanie’s favorite ice pack for sore muscles
- Stephanie’s favorite Therabands for high and low rows
- Stephanie’s favorite yoga mat for chin tucks
- Melody’s favorite equipment for online piano lessons
MEET THE AUTHOR, STEPHANIE ELKINS, DPT
Dr. Stephanie Elkins is a physical therapist at CARE Physical Therapy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, as well as her Master’s in Education in Biomechanics from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. Dr. Elkins has been a practicing therapist since 2009 and has practiced in multiple states and in various settings including outpatient rehabilitation centers, home health, hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities. In 2019 Dr. Elkins became a certified dry needling specialist in the state of Mississippi.