Washing your back in the shower — and we're talking about that hard-to-reach area right in the middle of your spine — might seem like a mundane task, but it's an excellent way to improve your shoulder health, upper-back mobility and even relieve neck pain as you age.
"Maintaining mobility is more about consistency than it is intensity or duration," says K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50. " Taking just 30 seconds a day to be intentional about reaching as far back there as you comfortably can teaches your body that ability is something worth preserving — and even growing."
And it is. Washing your back involves the four shoulder movements that most commonly give people problems through the years: internal and external rotation as well as abduction and adduction. These movements are necessary to do more than keep your back clean. They also allow you to reach into your back pocket, wipe yourself after going to the bathroom, put on a bra and reach high kitchen cabinets, says Theresa Marko, DPT, owner of Marko Physical Therapy in New York City.
That's why, ultimately, your shoulder mobility plays such a large role in your ability to move well and live independently as you age, says Phillip Higgins, DPT, a physical therapist who works with older adults at Bespoke Treatments in Seattle.
When we don't regularly use, and therefore lose, your shoulders' full ranges of motion, the joints might start to feel tight or even feel painful when trying to do things that involve reaching overhead or behind you.
"The other very important thing to know about shoulder mobility is that it very much plays into neck mobility and pain," Marko says. When your shoulders are tight and it's hard to lift overhead, this can impact your ability to fully extend the spine and sit up straight with proper posture. This can lead to a wonky neck positioning that leads to a stiff neck and pain.
Ready to devote some more time to lathering your back? Here's how to do it:
- Raise one hand over your shoulder and place it on your upper back.
- Scrub down as far as you comfortably can for a few seconds. (You can use a stick-less loofa or washcloth).
- Next, drop your elbow to your side, place your hand on your lower back and work your way up.
- Then switch arms and repeat for good measure.
How Far Can You Reach?
If you're doing this simple mobility move every time you bathe, you'll start to notice if you can't reach quite as far as you used to.
"These changes happen over time, and we don't quite notice it, so it's good to always do self-checks," Higgins says. "We want to think about the upper back being mobile, the shoulder blade being stable along that ribcage and the shoulder joint being mobile," he says.
So what if you can't reach all of your back to wash it? Keep practicing, but don't force it. Focus on moving only as far as you can comfortably, and stick with it, Fetters says. With daily practice, you'll likely find it starts to get easier.
And, in the meantime, use a loofa on a stick to hit any parts you weren't able to reach with your hand. No need to go dirty!