The Best Upper Back Stretches to Ease Pain
Does your back hurt? Feel an uncomfortable tightness? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Back pain is one of the most common causes for missing work, developing disabilities, and visiting the doctor. What’s more, it will affect as many as 80% of us at some point in our lives. And it makes sense, think about all the weight your spine must sustain, constantly fighting against gravity.
We don’t do our spines any favors either. Many of us are sitting at work all day, which compresses our spine. We look down to our phones, putting pressure on our neck, and it’s not like most people pay special attention to posture. These small aggravations build over time and often go unnoticed. That is–until you start feeling them take effect, robbing you of your mobility and causing you pain or tension.
Although that sounds unnerving, there’s an effective way to combat back pain with little effort on your part. By coming to Stretch Zone and taking part in simple assisted stretching exercises, you’ll feel a noticeable difference in your level of comfort, flexibility, and movement.
Before You Start
Something to keep in mind before we get started is that you should never feel like you’re being strained. When you are with your stretch practitioner, communication is key. The general rule is pressure = good, pain = bad.
We will start slow, remember to breathe as you are worked through these exercises. Furthermore, listen to your body. If it’s your first time, don’t put excessive force on your body, only go as far as your joints allow. You should be maintaining a dull pressure, but the second you feel anything that resembles a sharp pain, stop. Take this hurt as your signal to halt and advise your stretch therapist.
Your body and muscles have a natural reflex called ‘tonus’ which kicks in when your body thinks it’s getting stretched too far. Professionally assisted stretches like those you’ll find at Stretch Zone are designed to subvert this reflex and unlock deeper stretches. Now that you know what you need to know, let’s get started.
How Do We Stretch Your Upper Back?
The Importance of Breathing
We cannot stress the importance of breathing enough in upper back stretches–or any stretches for that matter.
Here’s why you don’t want to hold your breath when you are being stretched:
- You build additional tension and resistance
- You deprive your muscles of oxygenated blood
- You increase the production of lactic acid which leads to pain and soreness
Breathing not only keeps your muscles oxygenated, but it also helps your body relax. You’ll instantly notice the difference when you enter a stretch. By breathing in deeply, you will gain length, and when you slowly release the air, you’ll notice yourself settling deeper into the stretch. This deep and controlled breathing should be practiced with every stretch.
As you go through these exercises follow the pattern:
- Get in position for your stretch
- Take in a slow but deep breath into your diaphragm (this should feel like inflating your stomach region rather than your chest)
- Inhale in a slow count between five and ten seconds
- Slowly release in the same count, letting your body settle in, and our stretch practitioners to do the work
- When you come out of a stretch, let us assist you–avoiding quick and sudden movements
Breathing will be one of the principal factors in making these stretches work, so be mindful.
Trapezius and Neck Stretches
The trapezius is a large, trapezoidal-shaped muscle that is connected to the back of your neck and extends between your shoulders, from your upper to lower back. Pain and tension in this muscle are commonly referred to as ‘text neck.’
Furthermore, it’s associated with the tightness that develops by looking down at a phone for extended periods of time. These stretches are perfect for alleviating discomfort to this muscle and the neck as a whole.
Upper Trapezius / Ear to Shoulder Stretch
This is a pretty easy stretch you can do either sitting or standing.
Step 1. Slowly tilt your head towards the left shoulder, getting your ear as close to your shoulder as you can without straining. Your right shoulder might begin to lift when you do this but try to keep your shoulders square.
Step 2. Take your left arm and lift it over your head, placing the palm of your hand on your right cheek.
Step 3. Do not put pressure on your neck, simply leave your hand resting on your cheekbone as you take slow and focused breaths into your diaphragm. As you release the air, your neck will incrementally give to the light weight of your hand. This release should be aided by gravity, not force.
Step 4. Continue to breathe slowly for about 30 seconds before slowly lifting your hand, straightening your head, and tilting it to the right side to repeat the process.
When we do this stretch on our specialized table, we will ask you to relax as one of our therapists move your head from one side to the other, imitating this movement.
Levator Scapulae Stretches
Neck pain is often associated with bad posture because hunched shoulders and forward-tilting
heads put a lot of strain on the neck. This stretch is perfect to relieve tension on the neck and help improve posture.
Step 1. We will make sure you are comfortably seated. However, keep yourself from hunching by pulling your shoulders away from your ears and squeezing your back muscles.
Step 2. Grab the bottom of your chair with the right hand then bring your chin towards your chest before slightly rotating your head towards your left shoulder
Step 3. Bring your left hand up to your head and place it over the top of your skull with your fingers lightly gripping around your head
Step 4. Take in a deep breath and as your release, gently pull your head down towards your armpit until you feel pressure along the right side of your neck.
Step 5. Release your head and slowly bring yourself back to a neutral position before doing the movement on the other side. You should do these three times on either side.
This stretch might be a little awkward at first. However, after you’re done, you’ll feel a huge difference on the back of your neck and mid-upper back.
Step 1. Lie face down on our table with your feet about shoulder-width apart with your toes turned outwards and heels inwards.
Step 2. Place one hand over the other and rest your head on them (your hands can be under your chin or under your forehead)
Step 3. Draw the elbows and shoulders gently away from the floor while letting your head hang. You should not feel like you’re forcing your head downward. The neck should be relaxed as you push away from the table. Gaining length with each inhale and releasing with each exhale we exert pressure up and down your back with a roller or by moving your legs
You read right! Legs, for your back. Sounds counterintuitive but this is highly recommended for
people who spend a lot of their time sitting. The longer you spend sitting, the more hunched your back becomes.
In addition, if your hamstrings aren’t flexible, they won’t be able to compensate for the weight you are dumping on your spine when bending over or lifting something. Flexible hamstrings also help improve your posture and by extension, relieve your back pain.
Simple Hamstring Stretch
An oldie but a goodie, this pose not only helps release hamstring tension it also helps release tightness in the upper back. With this stretch and with all hamstring stretches, it’s important to be mindful of what your body is telling you – don’t over-do it and go slow.
Step 1. Sit on the table with both legs outstretched, heels touching, and your toes pointing towards the ceiling.
Step 2. Keep your back straight and your shoulders down (it helps to envision a string pulling your head from your scalp up to the ceiling) then place your hands on either side of your hips and lightly press down until you feel like you are sitting up as straight as you can.
Step 3. Keeping your back straight, stretch your hands forward, and bend at the waist. We will help you along by gently pushing on your back. Emphasize keeping your back from rounding and think more about pulling your chest towards the floor than leading with your head.
Step 4. We will help you hold the position for about 30 seconds, finding length with each breath, and allowing gravity to pull your body forward with each exhale.
Hurdler Hamstring Stretch / Cross-leg Forward Fold
Another simple assisted hamstring stretch that also gives you some upper back release.
Step 1. Lay flat with your shoulders down and away from your ears. We will help you slowly cross one foot over the other, keeping the hind leg as straight as possible.
Step 2. Keeping your legs straight, we will lift them at the heels and pull them up until they are straight up.
Step 3. As we work through some movements, make a conscious effort to keep the base of your spine flat on the table.
Step 4. Find length with your inhales and let your body release with each exhale as we help you hold the pose for thirty seconds before switching legs
Upper Back Stretches for Pain
This series of stretches are specifically designed to release the tension and pain in your upper back. While the previous stretches alleviate pain indirectly, these three stretches specifically target the parts of your back that are most vulnerable to pressure.
One of the foundational resting poses used in yoga, child’s pose is an excellent passive stretch to relieve back and shoulder tension. It’s simple, easy, and super effective, but even more so with some assistance.
Step 1. Come to a kneeling position on our table, with your knees about hip-width apart and your palms resting upon your thighs.
Step 2. Take in a deep breath and on an exhale, lower your torso with your belly resting on your thighs and your hands outstretched before you.
Step 3. Bring your hands back to either side of your body with your palms facing up and your forehead resting on your mat or carpet.
Step 4. Take long and deliberate breaths into your diaphragm and on each exhale relax your neck and back, letting your shoulders melt over your legs and towards the ground.
Step 5. You will feel our stretch therapists apply pressure to your lower back and up your spine to help gain added release.
Supine Back Twist
A passive stretch with a ton of benefits for your upper and lower back pain! As with all these movements, you should not feel forced into positions you are uncomfortable with. Therefore, if you feel a sharp pain, that’s your queue to let us know.
Step 1. Lay flat, face-up on the table with both arms outstretched to either side, your legs straight ahead. Actively stretch your hands out to make sure you are fully splayed.
Step 2. With your arms still outstretched, we will bend your left knee and lift your leg off the ground and fold it over your right leg while you keep your shoulders flat on the floor.
Step 3. With your left leg over your right leg and your shoulders square on the ground, we will turn your head to the right. This should look like your knee is facing the opposite direction of your face.
Step 4. We will then push down on your knees, adding pressure to your lower back and releasing tension in that area as well as your hips.
Step 5. Take slow and purposeful breaths for 30 seconds, releasing more tension with each exhale. At no point should you feel forced into a deeper turn than your body can handle. Let us do the work and your body relax before repeating on the other side.
We’ve now given you nine useful exercises that will stretch your upper back and release the tension that leads to pain and discomfort. These, of course, should not be a one-time thing. People of all ages should stretch regularly to avoid the pitfalls of upper back pain.
Want to Learn More About Upper Back Stretches for Pain or Tension?
These upper back stretches are an excellent start to improve your back flexibility and reduce pain. However, even then, you might feel like you need a little bit more. There’s no shame in that! Stretch Zone treats people of all ages and even professional athletes in the NFL, NBA, and MLB.
Our methods are proven to be effective. If you’re ready to get more from your stretch session, contact us today for a free 30-minute stretch! We are excited to help you see the difference!