“Oh I don’t know, I just have absolutely no back pain and perfect posture naturally!” said no one… ever. Upper-back, mid-back and neck pain are extremely common problems, with everyday actives being the main pain-causing culprits. Nowadays, we spend hours upon hours hunched over a computer or with our heads down looking at our phones. As a result, we are left with poor posture, tight and stressed muscles, blocked oxygen flow to muscles, and decreased flexibility. Not only do our technology habits play a leading role in upper back pain, but lugging around those must-have designer bags and backpacks (that we shove our lives into) can really take a toll on our spines. Of course pulled muscles and injuries can can be leading causes of pain in the back as well.
Once we become aware of upper back pain causes, it’s important that we make the necessary adjustments to prevent further stress and injury. In addition to sitting correctly, getting up every 20 minutes, and not overloading purses and backpacks, it is crucial to know how to stretch and exercise the upper back and neck. With the proper exercises and habits, you will be astounded at the amount of upper back pain relief you’ll feel, not to mention, the improvement to your posture. Good posture creates a slimming effect almost immediately, and who wouldn’t want that?
To get you headed down the path of no pain, we have put together a list of some of our favorite and most effective upper back stretches and exercises to relieve your ailing muscles.
Let’s start off easy with some gentle ideas how to stretch the upper back!
This is great calming stretch for shoulder and upper back muscle pain and soreness. Start in a strong standing position. As you exhale, bend forward from the hip joints. It it completely fine to have your knees straight or bent here; whatever feels best. Let your head hang from the root of your neck. You can have your palms to the ground or grab each elbow as you sway a little side to side. Stay in this stretch for 30 seconds and then roll up slowly to standing.
Assisted Head Tilt
This is a very easy, but very rewarding stretch for upper neck pain. Sit or stand up straight with shoulders pulled back for good posture. With your right hand gently guide your head to the right while the left arm hangs by your side. Do not pull too hard on your head; you should feel the stretch almost immediately. Do not overextend. Hold this for 10 seconds, return to center and repeat on the opposite side for 10 seconds. Continue this for one minute.
This yoga stretch is perfect for relieving upper middle back pain, upper neck pain, and shoulder tightness. Start on all fours, with wrists underneath the shoulders and knees underneath the hips. On an inhale, drop your stomach, creating an arch in the back and look forward. On an exhale round the back and the shoulders and drop the head creating a “C” shape with your body. Repeat these motions until you feel nice and stretched.
Thread the Needle Pose
This stretch is amazing for tight upper back muscles and shoulders. Start on all fours, with wrists underneath the shoulders and knees underneath the hips. Move your right palm from underneath your shoulder to the center line. Take your left arm and slide it underneath your right arm. Your left shoulder and ear should be to the ground. Raise your right arm high or place is on your back (as seen in photo above). Gently return to center and repeat on opposite side.
Fish Pose is perfect for upper back pain in between the shoulder blades. It also helps open up the chest which promotes good posture. Start lying on your back, lift your pelvis slightly off the floor, and slide your hands, palms down, below your glutes. Then rest your glutes on the backs of your hands; they will stay like this for the rest of the stretch. Inhale and press your forearms and elbows firmly against the floor. Bring your shoulder blades inward and lift your upper torso and head away from the floor, then release your head back onto the floor. Depending on how high you arch your back and lift your chest, either the back of your head or its crown will rest on the floor. Do not put a lot of weight on your head, this will cause unwanted crunching in the neck. Hold for 30 seconds.
This stretch provides relief for back shoulder pain and opens up the chest, but don’t overstretch to avoid strained muscles. Stretch your legs back with the tops of your feet on the floor. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Hug the elbows back into your body. Press your the tops of your feet and thighs firmly into the ground. Begin to straighten your arms and only lift up to the point where your pelvis and thighs are still firmly planted on the ground. Pull your shoulder blades back and down to open the chest and look forward. Hold pose for 15-30 seconds, then slowly return to starting position. Bonus: it’s also great for firming and toning your butt.
This variation of Downward Dog is amazing for lengthening and strengthening the upper back, stretching the shoulders and increasing spine flexibility. Start on all fours with wrists aligned under shoulders and knees under hips. Walk the hands out a few inches as you drop your chest to the floor. Draw your navel up and your hips back but keep the hips and knees aligned (move knees back if need be). Drop your forehead to the floor and let your neck relax. You should feel the stretch in your shoulders almost immediately. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
Now that we’re all stretched out, here are some exercises to improve posture and prevent future upper back pain and soreness!
This killer upper back exercise will strengthen the back muscles and shoulders. Do 12-15 reps. For an added challenge, incorporate 2 to 5 pounds weights to the exercise.
Opposite Arm and Leg Raises
This exercise is great for strengthening shoulders and upper back. Start on all fours. Slowly raise your right arm and left leg. Keep your core engaged and grounded arm and leg stable and strong. Lower your right arm and left leg back to all fours and repeat on opposite side. Do 10 reps on each side.
Resisted Shoulder Blade Squeeze
This exercise targets the shoulders and will have you sitting up straight in no time. Repeat 10-12 times.
This simple yet effective exercise is perfect for strengthening the upper back muscles while toning the shoulders for upright posture. Using a resistance band, secure the band in a door jam, a closed door handle, or another stable strong anchor. In a seated position, either in a chair or on a mat, grab both ends of the band, palms facing down. Relax your shoulder back and down and pull the bands back in a rowing motion (as seen above). Repeat 10-12 times.
This exercise will help loosen any tight upper back muscles that cause stiffness and pain in the upper back. Start on all fours and while engaging your core, put your right hand behind your head. Rotate the right elbow and shoulder up and away until it it pointing to the ceiling. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute. Do 20 reps on each side.
Another awesome upper back exercise that tones and strengthens to prevent back and shoulder pain in the future. Using a resistance band, hold ends in either hand while stepping on the middle of the band with your feet. Open feet about hip width apart. With palms facing down, raise arms out and up to shoulder height, while keeping core engaged and tightened. Return to center and repeat for 10-15 reps.
Unfortunately there isn’t an instant fix for nagging back and neck pain. Sure, massages feel great in the moment, but a few hours later it’s right back to pesky pain. The best way to combat the pain we experience from our daily lives of hunching over a computer or being stuck in traffic is to keep a consistent routine of stretching and exercise. We promise that if you utilize these stretches and exercises on a daily basis, you’ll feel like a whole new person – and look like one too! Tweet us @66audio or tag us at 66audio and show us know which upper back stretches and exercises you liked best!