Stretches for Upper Back Pain

Published by Jason Narog on

Upper body stretching

Today we’ll look at various stretches available to address upper back pain. As with hip pain and lower back pain our daily lives of sitting, tweeting, computer-ing, and driving for hours on end cause much of our pains and discomforts. So let’s stretch and strengthen to live a happier daily life.

Exercises and Stretches for Upper Back Pain

Dr. Jo helped give us some ideas for hip pain so let’s see how she would address the upper back.

  • Upper Back Stretch in a Chair – Here’s an awesome stretch you can do WHILE AT WORK SITTING AT YOUR DESK!!! Interlace your fingers behind your head and lean back in your chair. The height of the chair you’re sitting in may make this slightly difficult if the back of the chair is too high. Hold for 30 seconds performed 3 times.
  • Myofascial Back Release – You’ll want a larger foam roller (link is for a 36″ roller) for this so you can get your tail bone to your head all on the roller.  With you and the foam roller on the ground, lay your back down on the roller and place your elbows on the ground out to your sides. If you need more extending your arms away from the foam roller in a T position will open up your chest even more. If that’s still not enough, interlace your fingers behind your head and drops your elbows to the floor (like in the upper back chair stretch.) Your knees will be bent similar to a bridge position. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat.
  • Prone T Floor Strengthen – (grab a towel or something soft for your face if this is uncomfortable) Laying face down on the ground, legs fully extended away from the body, put your arms out to your sides palms down. Lift your arms off the ground, squeezing your shoulder blades, hold for 2-3 seconds, then drop your arms back down. Repeat 10 to 15x. 2 to 3 sets.
  • Snow Angels – Lying on your back with your knees bent, put your arms out to your sides and slightly bend at the elbows. Palms should be up towards the ceiling but on the ground. Slide your arms (with elbows and hands still connected to the ground) up towards your head. Your end range of motion is when either your elbows or hands come up off the ground. Slide your arms back down a little past your arm pits when you find your end range. 2 sets of 10 reps.
  • Long Sit Arm Stretch – Sit on your butt with your legs out in front of you. Roll your upper back / chest down, tucking your chin. Clasp your hands together and punch your arms out towards your toes. You want a rounded spine here. Hold for 30 seconds.
  •  Bird Dogs – On your hands and knees (wrist, elbow, shoulder stacked on top of each other and knee to hip stacked) without twisting extend your opposite arm and leg away from the body. She goes palm down with the hand. 5 to 10 per side is the suggested repetition range. If you struggle with doing both arm and leg at the same time without spinning, you could go arm only or leg only. The idea behind opposite arm and opposite leg is based on the way the body’s musculature works. It crosses in an X like pattern. Left arm right leg would create an X in your body (or vice versa.)

7 Upper Back Stretches for Pain Relief

  • Eagle Pose – I’ve done this one in a seated position (you can do it while taking a break from office work without getting up) but the person in the video is standing. Bend both elbows at 90 degrees. Take your left elbow under your right elbow then grab your right hand with your left hand (left hand would be on the left, right on the right.) If you can’t clasp your fingers together do your best to grab a finger or thumb (maybe you can only grab your right thumb with your left hand.) You’ll feel the stretch in your shoulder blades. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
  • Side Lat Stretch – Bring your arms up overhead, grab your right wrist with your left hand with palms towards the ceiling. Lean towards the side of your grasping hand (left.) You’ll feel the stretch on the opposite side (in this case right.) You’re essentially bending at the hip to the side as though you were doing a side crunch. No twisting. Make sure you’re pulling up so you’re stretching both up and to the side. Hold 20 to 30 seconds on both sides.
  • Upper Trap Stretch – Place one arm behind your low back, then grab the top of your head with the other. Drop your head down towards the shoulder of the arm on your head (if you grab your head on the left drop the ear towards the left) Try to keep the opposite shoulder down. You’ll feel the stretch on the opposite side neck / shoulder area. Hold 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.
  • Levator Scapulae Stretch –  Same setup as the upper trap stretch above, with the difference being you want to slightly angle your head so your eyeballs are looking down towards the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
  • Table Top Stretch – You can probably do this one on your desk, depending on the height of your desk. Place your hands on your desk, and walk backwards until you can hip hinge to a flat back position. Slight bend at the knees, keep your head looking down in a neutral position. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Thoracic Stretch – Place your elbows on a chair or table in a kneeling position. Clasp your hands together, then sink down.  Keep your neck neutral. You’ll feel the stretch in your upper back. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • W & Y Stretch –  Raise your hands up and away from your body in a Y like position. Slowly lower your arms bending at the elbows to create a W (arms and body.) Then return to the Y. You can also do this one while sitting in a chair at your desk. Do not shrug your shoulders.

One Stretch to Remove Upper Back Pain

Let’s see what Bob & Brad, the 2 most famous physical therapists on the internet, have to say.

You’ll want a chair that isn’t too high in the back. Around shoulder level should be acceptable. Grab a towel and place it low on the neck. Start by tucking your chin and releasing. Then slowly start working in neck extensions by tilting your head back. You’ll want to maintain good posture in the chair. Hold onto the towel with your hands. Start with 10, then wait a little bit and do another 10 throughout the day. They suggest 5 to 8x a day. Try to tilt backwards straight as opposed to leaning towards either side. You can start by looking in a mirror.

The only addition I’d add to this list involves the hand on the head neck stretch section. I would include gazing your eyes towards the ceiling as well as the head tilt and gazing towards the floor variations.

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    Categories: Exercises