Published:
August 17, 2021
Last Updated:
September 3, 2021

10 Upper Back Stretches You Can Do Now

Upper back pain can affect you no matter your age, making it difficult to stay active and live your life normally. While the upper back (or thoracic spine) is less likely to be injured or cause discomfort compared to the lower back, injury can still lead to pain and muscle tension.

The position we keep our head and neck while scrolling through our phones or computers can cause upper back pain. When we hunch our shoulders forward and look down at the screen, muscles in the upper back and neck can become stiff and even lose strength over time, leading to poor posture. This is sometimes referred to as “tech neck” or “text neck,” implying a direct correlation between these aches and pains and spending lots of time on our mobile devices.

Thankfully, upper back pain can be relieved, and prevented, by adding simple stretches to your daily routine. Incorporating upper back stretches during the day ‒ whether at work, school, or home ‒ can help improve flexibility in the neck, shoulder muscles, chest, and back. If needed, work with a physical therapist or certified personal trainer to make sure you’re stretching appropriately to reduce the risk of injury.

1. Side-to-Side Head Rotation

From SpineUniverse

Image via Shutterstock

Directions:

  1. To begin this stretch, either lie flat on the ground or sit upright in a chair.
  2. Move your chin slowly toward your right shoulder. For a deeper stretch, use your hand to lightly pull your head into the stretch.
  3. Hold this position for 20 seconds before returning to center.
  4. Rotate your chin to your left shoulder and hold for 20 seconds.
  5. Repeat this stretch three to five times on each side. Remember to breathe deeply through this and every stretch!

2. Shoulder Roll

From VeryWell Fit

Image via Shutterstock

Directions:

  1. To start, stand with your arms by your sides and your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Rotate your shoulders forward in big circles; repeat the movement about 10 times.
  3. Reverse the rotation ‒ make the circles in the opposite direction, moving backward. Repeat this motion 10 times.

The Shoulder Roll stretch mainly targets the muscles of the shoulders, upper back, and chest, releasing stress and tension from the shoulders. It can also help improve mobility in your joints, muscles, and tendons.

3. Butterfly Wings

From Healthline

Directions:

  1. Place your palms on opposite shoulders, and bring your elbows together slowly.
  2. Hold for five seconds, then release.
  3. Repeat this exercise 15-20 times.

4. Child’s Pose

From Healthline

Image via Shutterstock

Directions:

  1. Standing on all fours, feet together and big toes touching, spread your knees as far apart as you comfortably can.
  2. Sink down to your knees and slide your buttocks back onto your feet.
  3. While exhaling, hinge at the waist and drop your upper body forward between your legs, arms still stretched.
  4. Allow your forehead to touch the floor and your shoulders to spread, your hips sinking down onto your feet.
  5. Hold for 15 seconds.

Child’s pose is a stretch commonly used in yoga, and it helps stretch the thoracic spine and shoulder area. This position can also reduce stress and muscle fatigue.

5. Cat-Cow Pose

From Healthline

Image via Shutterstock

Directions:

  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees hip-width apart; relax your back. As you inhale and move into cow pose, press your chest forward and allow your belly to sink toward the ground.
  2. Slowly raise your head, relax your shoulders away from your ears, and look forward.
  3. As you exhale, come into cat pose. Round your spine upward, tucking your tailbone and drawing your pubic bone toward your belly.
  4. Repeat this 10 times.

6. Overhead Arm Reach

From VeryWell Fit

Image via Shutterstock

Directions:

  1. From a sitting or standing position, extend your arms above your head.
  2. Lean to the right. To deepen the stretch, use your right hand to slowly pull the left arm toward the right side.
  3. Hold this position on the right side for about 5 seconds, then return to the starting position with your body straight.
  4. Repeat the same movements on the left side to complete your first rep. Complete 10 to 20 reps.

7. Doorway Pectoral Stretch

From Saint Luke’s Hospital

Directions:

  1. Stand in an open doorway.
  2. To start, raise and bend each arm at a 90-degree angle with your palms resting on the doorframe, pressing your forearms against each side of the frame.
  3. Step one foot slightly forward, slowly pulling your body through the open doorway, with your arms still on the doorframe. Keep your torso straight. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat 10 times with each foot in the forward position.

This stretch is easy for beginners and great for relieving stiffness in the upper back, neck, and pectoral muscles. All you need is an open doorway!

8. Seated Spinal Twist

From MayoClinic

Image via Shutterstock

Directions:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms behind your back, with your fingers facing out to the sides.
  2. Take your left foot and place it flat on the ground on the outside of your right knee.
  3. Inhale and bring your right arm up. Then, exhale and pull your right arm down, placing your elbow on the outside of your left leg.
  4. Turn your chest, head and eyes to the left. Hold this pose for about a minute.
  5. Slowly bring your head first and then your chest back to center.

Since this stretch is done while sitting, it’s easy to incorporate into your day and helps break up the hours spent at a desk. The Seated Spinal Twist improves mobility and flexibility in the spinal muscles.

9. Knee to Chest

From Healthline

Image via Shutterstock

Directions:

  1. Lie flat on the ground.
  2. Bend your left leg and bring your knee in toward your chest, holding your shin as you do so.
  3. Hold this pose for 10 seconds and then release.
  4. Repeat the stretch with your right leg, for three reps on each side.

10. Cobra Pose

From The Healthy

Image via Shutterstock

Directions:

  1. Lie facedown on a comfortable surface with your legs straight back. Place your hands underneath your shoulders.
  2. Inhale and press your palms into the ground to slowly lift your chest up. As you are lifting, keep your chest forward and open your shoulders, keeping them away from your ears.
  3. Once your arms are fully extended, gently lift your head to look upward without moving your neck.
  4. Hold this position with your lower body still flat on the floor for three to five deep breaths.
  5. Slowly lower your body back into starting position on the floor after the stretch is complete.

The Bottom Line

Incorporating these upper back stretches into your routine can help prevent or relieve upper back pain by stretching and strengthening muscles in the targeted areas and also provide stress relief during a long day.

Flexibility is important for physical health and allows for a fuller range of motion, leading to a lower risk of potential injury. Upper back pain in particular can impact the surrounding parts of your body, potentially leading to pain in the lower back as well as stiffness in the neck or headaches. Stretching can also be a great way to spend time reflecting and meditating, and it can be incorporated into your yoga routine.

Before starting these upper back stretches, it’s important to warm up and loosen your muscles to prevent pulling or injuring the targeted areas. While performing each stretch, listen to your body and resist forcing the motions if they cause pain.

If you’re experiencing discomfort in your upper back or while performing these stretches, talk with your doctor.

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