Your Pack Is Killing Your Neck. Here’s How to Fix It.

If you spend the workweek at a desk and the weekend backpacking, your first rib needs a little help.

Most people probably have no idea that ribs even have numbers, let alone where the first one lives or its importance. This occasionally angry little guy is at the top of your rib cage and is most easily found by pressing down through your upper trap, behind your clavicle, close to your neck. It attaches to your spine and sternum, but the connected musculature is more interesting. The scalene muscles, which originate at your cervical spine, connect to your first rib. The neurovascular bundle coming from your neck also pass near the first rib. So it’s sort of like a highway interchange—and one little mishap can cause a whole lot of pain.

Illustration: healthtap.com

Imagine you’re sitting slouched at your desk all day at work. The scalene muscles (at the back of your neck) may shorten and stiffen in that position. Obviously, there are a few critical tissues near the rib and scalenes that could be irritated here. Another common scenario I see often is hikers, mountain bikers, and skiers wearing heavy packs for long periods of time who report neck pain, numbness, or tingling in their upper extremities. Think the first rib could be part of that problem? Hell yes!

Sound familiar? Here’s your fix.

Grab a yoga strap or a piece of climbing webbing. Now, wrap the webbing around your shoulder, near your neck, and sit on the ends to pin them down. Sit up tall to create tension on the strap and add to the range of motion by raising your arm. Try a minute or two in this position. Back off if you feel numbness or tingling in your arm.

Yoga strap wrapped under the leg and over the shoulder add pressure to the first rib.

While sitting tall, add range of motion with your shoulder—search for tender zones.

The other, more aggressive mobilization exercise can be done with a squat rack. Place the bar in the rack at shoulder height with some weight. Step under the bar and apply pressure to your upper trap near your neck. As you stand up, you will mobilize the first rib. It won’t feel good, but it is good. As always, stop if you feel numbness or tingling here.

Bar near the neck, pressure through the upper trap onto the rib

Press your trunk upward into the bar and add range of motion with your shoulder.

More hiker-specific stretches and exercises here

This article originally appeared on Revo PT & Sports Performance.

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