An update on life and thoughts on stiff upper backs

055F337F-1859-4789-9A6B-C21C41B26486Hello and good evening/afternoon/morning to those of you who still follow my blog (although it’s been dormant for a while) and to those who perchance have happened upon my writings.


Between my recent readings which have included Tribes (Seth Godin) and The War of Art (Steven Pressfield), maturation in my work as a strength and conditioning coach, and recent entrance into the gauntlet of fire that is the first term of my DPT (doctorate of physical therapy) program, I’ve felt a calling to write more. If I want professional writing to be a part of my career, I’ve come to the realization that I should approach writing as a regular endeavor rather than “waiting” for the perfect inspiration to strike. Here it goes.

My aim of today’s post, and the others to come, is to share:

  • my journey in education and life
  • my raw opinions, thoughts, and unanswered questions on topics relating to physical therapy, movement, mindset, nutrition, and training
  • some insights and tips I think could benefit other practitioners, athletes, and everyday folks in the realms of physical, mental, and emotional self-care

I go through phases of curiosity over different areas of the body and pathological movement patterns I see around me. As of late, upper back “tightness”  (specifically in the region of the top three or four vertebral segments of the thoracic spine) has been on my radar (although, I really dislike the use of the word “tight” as a qualification due to its ambiguity but at this point, I don’t know a better alternative), and I’ve been seeing needs to remedy it everywhere. My mom who is a runner swings her arms from her glenohumeral joints while her scaps and upper back remain fixed and the other day, woke up at 4:30am up with a non-traumatic spasm in her upper back and neck that was so bad she was nauseous and couldn’t move for hours. My dad and two of my training clients, all of whom spend long hours seated at computers, lack rotation in those upper thoracic segments and have recently developed anterior/middle shoulder aching and pinching sensations in the proximal regions of their shoulders. I, personally, have also worked around my own cervicogenic “tension” headaches that occur from workouts or during times of stress (read: sitting in school or studying for long hours) for the last couple of years, and I believe a stiff upper back to be a contributor.


The cluster of associated signs includes some degree of an anterior head carriage, tight upper traps/pec minor/levators/scalenes/SCMs SCOMs, and/or internally rotated shoulders (yes, I’m pretty much describing upper cross syndrome). Really, who doesn’t have some degree of UXS nowadays?  With such prevalence, I think it’s important for me, as a practitioner, to learn how to address it, but I get frustrated because I haven’t figured it out yet (and I don’t think that many practitioners have either). I’m constantly running into sticking points with myself and my clients, and I think that sticking points arise when a prescribed intervention addresses a symptom of a problem rather than the root cause or only part of a more complex root cause. For example, massaging an individual’s tight levator might provide temporary relief, but without addressing the reason that muscle is tight, it will undoubtedly get tight again. Performing a thoracic spine mobilizing intervention (i.e., spinal manipulation, “open the book,” “thread the needle,” etc.) may be a good step in the process of alleviating upper back issues but if the root cause is related to suboptimal respiration mechanics (for example, excessive use of accessory musculature), the 20,000 breaths an individual takes in a day utilizing those dysfunctional mechanics are going to quickly revert any progress made until addressed.

As I type these thoughts, the conclusion I’ve arrived at for today (and it may be different tomorrow) is that the best way to address upper back “tightness” is

1) to learn how to differentially assess each of these areas, including breathing, soft tissue quality, strength/capacity of affected musculature (MMT), mobility, and mechanics in a way that helps identify weak/dysfunctional links and address those specifically.



2) continue learning and refer to other practitioners when problems arise that are out of your scope

As a final thought, any interventions/treatments done only once will not completely solve problems that have occurred over many days/months/years. Consistency with an intervention over a period of time is the only way to create and enforce the desired adaptations.

What are your thoughts on this topic? How do you assess and approach it? Do you run into sticking points with your clients/self?

Yours in Movement,



Sane, Balanced, Motivated

It’s the 2nd week of February, and this year is flying by. Since there is so much “new” in my life, a new job, schedule, blog, and goals, I’m always juggling and frequently re-evaluating. Today’s post is going to be an update on what’s going on in my life right now and what I’m doing to stay sane, balanced, and motivated.

Physical Therapy School

I’ve spent the last 2 years focused on getting accepted into a Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program.

The first year out of college, I retook (and Aced with the highest grades in my classes) two biology classes at my local community college, racked up 100+ hours of observation hours in a physical therapy office, and applied to 5 programs/schools that were within an hour’s drive of my house. I was rejected from 3, interviewed at 1 (then rejected), and waitlisted at the last (which never came to fruition).

The second year, I spoke with an admissions counselor from one school I was rejected from the year before, and framed my approach based on his recommendations. I retook a physics class (Aced), aced a 5.25 semester unit Spanish class, acquired over 1500 observation hours in multiple physical therapy settings, and had more recommendation letters. I also applied early to 20 programs this time. Well, after months of waiting for responses, I’m now at a point where I’ve been rejected from 14 schools and waitlisted in 3 programs, and I’m still waiting to hear back from 3.

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Every single rejection is heartbreaking. The nicest rejection email still reads like “you are not good enough.” It hurts. It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing.

I just wonder if all these “no’s” are a sign that God has another path intended for me…or if struggling through this is God’s way of building an essential element of my character.


I do believe He has a plan for me.

I’ve had time to cultivate my passions in fitness and physical therapy over the last years. I have a lot more direction and sense of purpose in my life today than I did a year or two ago. Physical therapy is not my [only] end-all-be-all goal. My passions are in helping others, working with young athletes, teaching everyone healthy and sustainable fitness practices, and keeping people active and uninjured through the entirety of their lives. I see physical therapy as a means of doing this, but it is not the only way. So, regardless of what happens with physical therapy, I know the direction I’m going to keep shooting in.

Following My Bliss

While I wait to see how physical therapy school plays out, still unsure of where I’ll be in the Fall, I’m spending my time developing my personal training business and learning about being the best coach I can be. I call it “following my bliss” aka doing what makes me happy!


  • Yesterday, I did my first [paid] photoshoot as a model. It felt great! This is something I plan to incorporate more of. Why not? Anyone need a model?
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  • I have a [awesomely organized] binder for my personal training business. Yes, I’m a organization nut. I have color-coded tabs, self-made logs, a place for ideas, and other resources strategically placed in my binder.
  • I’m cultivating a social media following to increase the exposure of my website/blog.
  • I’m building a network of fitness professionals to collaborate with, including the physical therapists I’ve worked for.
  • Although I work for a gym, I’m not limiting myself just to business in that setting.
  • I’m exploring opportunities for growth, including coaching internships, Masters programs, and seminars/conventions.
  • I’m frequently listening to awesome podcasts in my car such as Ben Coomber Radio (a great UK-based nutritionist) and Physique Science Radio (hosted by Sohee Lee and Layne Norton) and trying to keep up with my monthly-delivered Strength & Conditioning Research Literature Reviews.
  • I began a new training program in the gym. It’s from Eric Cressey (one of the top athletic trainers in the country and one of my idols) called the High Performance Handbook. Yes, I am a personal trainer who has a personal trainer because, I’ll admit it, there is still a lot I don’t know, specifically in regards to training program design, which is really a form of art. I’m two workouts into this program and already I feel FANTASTIC. Not only am I learning a lot about my body and program design, but following a newinteresting  workout program is highly motivating.
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One thing I need to improve on is setting boundaries for myself. In addition to planning time to get things done on my calendar, I really need to plan time off and time for non-fitness, relaxing activities. Doing fitness/career related tasks all day every day is a surefire way for me to burnout. This is where playing with my dog, Bug, and spending time with my family and boyfriend come into play.

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How is your year going? What are you doing to stay sane, balanced, and motivated while pursuing your career, goals, etc?