Breastfeeding and back pain

New mothers often experience upper back and neck pain looking after their babies, the following are some helpful ideas and observations that might be of assistance to you or someone you know well.

As any kindergarten teacher can tell you if you spend much time with people much shorter than yourself it is easy to get poor posture and back pain from repeatedly bending down to help small children and listen to their little voices.

The comfort and safety of your baby is very important if he or she is to thrive, sometimes this happens unnecessarily at the expense of their mother’s comfort. Women are often taken by surprise when they inexplicably get pain in their upper back, shoulder, neck and even headaches when their children are still breastfeeding. This is often related in no small part to the posture they adopt when they breastfeed their baby.

Most back pain is posturally related, keeping your chin tucked in, shoulders back and spine straight is important in avoiding back pain whatever you do. How often have you seen a young mum bent forward from her waist, leaning to one side and craning her neck diagonally forward while she is breastfeeding her baby? A better question might be when was the last time you saw a breastfeeding mother NOT in poor posture?

If you raise the height of your baby on your lap when you breastfeed you can sit back and straight  with a cushion supporting the natural curve in your lower back. This upright sitting position can be achieved using a foam bolster under your baby (you can buy these at baby shops) and can negate the need to tip sideways toward your baby. Set yourself up with your baby fully supported without posturally stressing yourself. A slightly uncomfortable posture at the beginning of breastfeeding will become much more uncomfortable by the end of a feeding session.

Young mums usually love watching their blissful infant happily sucking away by craning their head diagonally forward and looking down which causes neck and shoulder pain. If you cannot resist doing this you can try using a mirror or even a camera and monitor  to watch your baby’s face as he or she is feeding.

I have heard lots of mums comment over the years about how their baby seems to psychically react when the mother is unhappy or uncomfortable you will be more relaxed around your infant if you are comfortable so it is a win /win situation if you breastfeed with postural awareness.

There are some very practical Self Massage techniques for nursing mums in the Self Massage book for any upper body muscular tension and safe upper back exercises to strengthen your posture and to stretch a tight neck and shoulders.

It is just as easy getting into poor posture bottle feeding babies too for similar reasons so please be aware of your posture if you do this.


Psychosomatic disease

The word psychosomatic tends to get used in a negative, even patronizing way. The term does not mean your problems are imaginary as many seem to think, the correct definition of psychosomatic is  that your physical condition is either related by timing or causality to your thinking (and vice versa).

Everybody in some way and at some time is subject to this, if you have an irritating workmate for instance who physically drains you just by being near them it is a type of psychosomatic response. Just for the purpose of the exercise take your pulse and blood pressure before you spend time with such a person and then again after you have been with them for an hour.

Blood pressure and pulse rate are objective, measurable physiological readings. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate can cause things like headaches and palpitations, when such things are accompanied by emotional stress it may be a psychosomatic response.

Once the stigma is taken out of the term it may give you important insights into your own health. As a massage therapist, nearly everyday I see psychosomatism at work. Jaw tension, neck pain and headaches very commonly accompany heightened emotional stress. The worse the stress the worse the physical symptoms often are.

Some years ago a middle aged man came to my clinic with chronic chest pain. J had seen several doctors about this over a 30 year period who could find nothing physically wrong with him, he was healthy, fit and strong.

Over a course of about 10 massage and acupuncture treatments J casually spoke about his experiences as a young man conscripted into a paramilitary police force in a country in a state of civil war.

As a new recruit he copped his share of  military bastardization, even worse he was under the command of  officers some of whom were mercenaries who he described as psychopaths (not altogether uncommon in war zones).

As a young recruit he witnessed death, injury and torture in a place where he often did not really know who his friends and allies were. As a young recruit he had no control over what was happening around him.

J had no tearful outbursts or overt anger through any of our sessions but I did sense that he felt ashamed about not being able to stop some truly dreadful things that happened almost every day to him and to others around him.

Throughout this time his tight chest muscles became progressively looser each week and although he claimed to never have had any breathing problems previously he was surprised that his breathing somehow became easier as his chest felt more comfortable.

In our second last session J told me how a he was forced to watch a suspected female “rebel” tortured to death with electric shocks by one of the mercenary officers, an officer who used to sneak up on J from time to time and shock him for the fun of it.

The last time I saw J he told me he felt normal again for the first time in 30 years and also told me he had not even told his wife the things he said to me. J finally got his guilt off his chest.

I am not suggesting that acupuncture or massage is a magic cure for PTSD or are  any better than other types of therapy only making a point about mind and body.

Tai Chi (Tai Qi)

The roots of tai chi go back thousands of years and it comes in different forms. Like yoga it is just as much a spiritual practice as it is an exercise for many. You don’t need to “believe in it ” for tai chi to work, it’s spiritual benefit comes from the calm enegised feeling it leaves you with when you start to get the hang of it. Tai chi is  an active meditation as well as neuro motor exercise with real physical benefits.

I have been asked by many clients over the years what tai chi actually does when I have recommended it to them. This is a fair question because it doesn’t look like cardio where people are puffing and panting. Tai chi doesn’t look like strength exercise either, where someone is clearly exerting him or herself. Tai chi  stretches limbs but not nearly with as much emphasis as you find in yoga. Tai chi is actually a mixture of all these things, this is what neuro motor exercise is.

I believe that tai chi is not nearly practised as much by non- Asians as it is by Asians because unless it is explained to you that it helps your balance, agility, posture and proprioception you may not realize what the potential benefits actually are. If you practice tai chi regularly it can improve all these things.

Tai chi is harder than it looks, I was surprised how much it made my thighs work (and strengthen) when I first started because you never stand with your legs locked straight in tai chi. All of that slow controlled movement can really improve your balance and coordination by changing the way you move. The wide stances used in tai chi can help elderly people in particular a great deal because it makes you much more sure footed.

Tai chi is closely related to chi gong (qi gong), tai chi’s lesser known cousin. They both encourage strong and stable posture and movement through slowing down the simplest actions. It looks graceful because tai chi and chi gong combines balance with flowing movements.

The older you get the more your slowing reflexes, stiffening muscles and weakening legs need tai chi and chi gong. When you start to find jogging, pumping iron and ball sports too hard to keep doing it is time for you to try something like tai chi, chi gong or yoga.

If you can only make it to class once a week practice at home, there is no reason why you cant, two square metres is all you need and you will find good instruction online to help you. Finding the right teacher is more important than finding the right style, if you do not feel comfortable with your teacher find another one.

If you feel like doing it more than once a day do so, the more often you do it the better you get and the quicker you will benefit from it. Running around the block can help you play sport better but neuro motor exercise (also called functional fitness) is what will help you stay safely living independently as you age.



Your bones perform the obvious task of holding your body up by forming a rigid and strong light weight frame- your skeleton. It is held in place and propelled by your muscles. Bone also provides protection for your brain encased inside your skull and your ribcage protects your heart and lungs. Bone might look dead from the outside but there is plenty of cellular activity going on within that is constantly forming new bone and blood cells via it’s marrow.

The adult body contains 206 bones, the two major categories of bone are tubular bone that are present in your arms and legs and flat bone as found in your shoulder blades, pelvis, ribs and skull. Bones can fracture, form tumours, can be deformed through diseases like polio and pagets disease, lose their density through osteoporosis, acquire hard to cure infections and can be misshaped through chronic postural stresses.

Posture has a big effect on how bones grow, a forensic scientist for instance can look at the remains of a soldier dead for 300 years and tell he was an archer because of uneven bone shapes in his rib cage (playing regular golf over many years can do this too). The skeleton of a hunch back looks just as crooked on the inside as it does on the outside. When your bones are deformed congenitally there is not alot you can easily do about it but if you are a chronic sloucher you are making the rest of your life needlessly difficult for yourself.

The continuous pressure of bad posture eventually bends a bone like a wire does on a bonsai plant. What starts out as a minor postural fault if not corrected turns into a much more obvious postural problem. Uneven leg lengths can cause the lower rib cage to distend on the opposite side of the body from the short leg tipping the body diagonally backwards as you stand and step forward. If you have a leg that is longer than the other corrective footwear can not only help you walk better it can make you look better too.

One of the better known causes of weak bones (osteoporosis) is by insufficient dietary calcium and bones losing density hormonally in post- menopause in women. Other factors such as the consumption of sugar and carbonated drinks, smoking and lack of exercise can also contribute to a loss of bone density. So can medications like corticosteroids.

The bones along with your muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments and cartilage form your muscular skeletal system, none of these tissues really mean anything without each other, together they are considered to be a functioning unit.

Standing and sitting straight and doing suitable regular exercise helps keep your bones strong and in the right shape. If keeping a straight spine is uncomfortable a good place to start getting better posture is massage and Self Massage.


Fascia (plural fasciae) is found throughout the body and performs several functions. That sausage skin- like coating that each muscle has is fascia. There are sheets of semi-transparent fascia in your abdomen holding your entrails up in place. There is fascia in your palms and soles that make the skin more wear resistently to friction and some of the muscles are attached to other structures via fascia.

Fascia is a tough and flexible connective tissue that envelopes organs and muscles and hold them in correct proximity to one another. Fascia is often wavy or corrugated in structure which helps give it elastic properties. It is like a multi-faceted membrane within your body that acts like a soft skeleton. It’s like a longer continuous piece of shrink wrap that connects all the internal structures.

Like other tissues in the body fascia is helped stay healthy with a good diet and adequate hydration. If it is too stiff it has a general uncomfortable tightening effect on the body and if it is too loose the flesh has a floppier quality about it.

The white strandy tissue (that is not fat) that you sometimes see butchers cut through when filleting meat includes fascia. Scientists are learning new things about fascia all the time, not all of them even agree how different types of fascia should even be categorized.

Tendon, ligament and spinal discs are closely related anatomically and functionally to fascia. When fascia is well hydrated it has a springiness about it that helps tissue it is connected too to return to it’s normal position. Your gastrocnemius (calf muscle) is not joined directly to your heal bone but by a long broad band of fascia.

Even more surprising is that fascia is now being thought of as the biggest and most important sense organ of the lot. This is so because it is honey -combed all through the body which means that if the fascia coating your leg muscles are stretched an internal stretch via the fascia through to other distant parts of the body. Everything on the inside of us is more or less connected together by fascia.

Fascia therefore has an important part to play in proprioception- your body’s awareness of it’s position in space. So fascia is now believed to be related to your posture and balance.

Like other soft tissues in your body fascia can strain and tear and sustain scare tissue when it heals. When you massage your muscles (or have someone else do it for you) your fascia is incidentally getting massaged with your muscles which is good for it’s circulation.