All Blog Posts


Which Muscles in My Upper Back Should be Stretched Regularly?

Which Muscles in My Upper Back Should be Stretched Regularly?

Backaches are extremely common in adults. They can either be dull or sharp and can be chronic or temporary. Most people need some quality upper back stretches to get the relief they need to go about their day without discomfort.

Are you familiar with the muscles in your upper back and how to stretch them? We’re going to go over the main muscles and their function, the benefits of regularly stretching them, and some common upper back injuries people may face.

Common Upper Back Injuries

Upper back injuries can happen to many individuals, especially those who don’t take proper care of theirs. If you’re constantly hunched over, sit all day, and don’t stretch often, you’re more likely to get an upper back injury from overtired muscles.

Below are a few upper back injuries people may experience when they neglect to stretch those muscle groups:

  • Traumatic injury
  • Muscle strain
  • Tightness
  • Stiffness
  • Pinched nerve
  • Muscle overuse

Fortunately, many of these injuries are preventable with the right care and habits!

What Muscles Make Up Your Upper Back?

Your back has 40 muscles made up of 20 pairs on each side of the body. They all work to help your spine move and stabilize your trunk. Your back muscles also work to coordinate the movements of your limbs and trunk. They’re separated into two groups known as extrinsic and intrinsic back muscles.

Extrinsic back muscles lie superficially on the back. They are also mainly associated with shoulder and arm movements. Intrinsic back muscles are located deep in the back and are primarily involved with rib or thoracic cage motion.

Below are some of the main intrinsic and extrinsic muscles that make up the upper back:

Latissimus Dorsi

You may know this muscle as “the lats” or “the lats muscle.” The latissimus dorsi is the largest and widest muscle in your upper body, covering almost all the back muscles in the posterior trunk. Its primary function is to produce movements of the shoulder joints. The latissimus dorsi muscle is located below the shoulder blades and extends to your spine.

You may experience soreness in this muscle if you perform activities that involve pulling and throwing. Typically, this happens from overuse, improper technique, or failure to warm up before exercising.

Levator Scapulae

This is a smaller muscle located at either side of your neck and extends to the shoulder blades. It’s responsible for raising your shoulders, which is where its Latin name implies. Another primary function of the levator scapulae is to keep your shoulder blade positioned to support the vertical alignment of your head and neck.

Swimmers commonly have injuries and aches in the levator scapulae. Sitting for prolonged periods with poor posture is one of the leading causes of tightness in that area. This happens when the muscles in the back and back become stressed for too long.


The rhomboids are made of two muscles known as the rhomboid major and minor. This pair of muscles are located between the shoulder blades on either side of your back. Their primary function is to help move the shoulder blades.

Doing activities that overwork your back, shoulders, and arms can increase your risk of spraining or straining the rhomboid muscles. Slouching while sitting at a desk can also put extra strain on those muscles. If your rhomboids are overtired or weak, you’re more likely to strain or tear them.

Stretch Zone practitioner performing an assisted stretch on senior client


Trapezius refers to the muscle group that extends to the width of your shoulders. It runs from the skull to the thoracic spine. It’s made up of three sections – the superior, middle, and inferior segment – that all play a role in the specific movements of your neck and shoulders.

Your “traps” are shaped like trapezoids, which is where they get their name. They extend over the back of the neck and shoulders and help move your head and shoulder blades when you use them. Several causes can result in tightness in that area, including overuse, stress, or injury.


Your deltoid muscle is the main muscle of the shoulder and is located at the uppermost part of each arm. Like the trapezius, this muscle group consists of three portions known as the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid. Your “delts” help you move your arms in different directions while protecting and stabilizing the shoulder joint. Keeping these muscles healthy allows you to use your arms for your everyday tasks without discomfort.

Overuse or injury may cause some soreness in your deltoid muscles. Besides stretching and warming up, athletes should take rest days to allow their muscles to recover. This can significantly prevent shoulder discomfort or injuries.


This muscle is one of the largest and most superficial cervical muscles. It’s located in the anterior part of the neck, one on either side. They’re responsible for turning your head left or right when they work individually. When working together, they’re responsible for helping you bend your head forward.

Most people with stiff necks might have a problem with one or both of the sternocleidomastoid muscles. This can occur when you bend forward to type or look down at your phone. Chronic health conditions like asthma or bronchitis can also cause discomfort in that area. People may experience different symptoms when their sternocleidomastoid is impacted, including:

  • Disorientation
  • Migraines
  • Ear ringing
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Difficulty holding up your head
  • Dizziness

Splenius Capitis

This thick, flat muscle is located at the posterior aspect of the neck. You have one on either side of your neck that works together to extend and hyper-extend the head and neck. The splenius capitis also works with other muscles in the neck called the semispinalis capitis and longissimus capitis. They all work to move your head back.

When all three of these muscles work together with the sternocleidomastoid, it moves the head left and right. Most injuries cause discomfort in the splenius muscle, and you may experience aching when you try to bend your neck forward or backward.

What Happens When You Stretch Your Upper Back Muscles Regularly?

Everyone should be stretching regularly, but upper back stretches can be incredibly beneficial for those with tightness in any of the muscles mentioned previously. Certain moves can help you move your arms, shoulders, and head much better without causing any discomfort.

Here are some of the many positive things that can happen when you stretch the muscles in your upper back regularly:

Improved Posture

Strengthening and stretching your upper back can allow you to have better posture. Most activities cause us to round our shoulders or pull our heads forward. It can be especially harmful if you remain in that position for a long time. The best way to improve your posture is to stretch those muscles in your upper back.

There are also some other muscle groups you should stretch to help with your posture, including your chest and hamstrings. You’d be surprised to learn how much those areas can impact your upper back!

Decreased Muscle Soreness

If you notice sore muscles after a workout, it could be because you didn’t warm up enough before exercising. Trying a new physical activity or switching up your exercise routine can also cause what’s known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Warming up before working out and stretching afterward can help relieve some of the tension you may experience.

Another tip to prevent soreness from overuse is to avoid doing the same exercise or working the same muscles.

Stress Relief

Stretching can also provide many mental benefits, including stress relief. Most people tense their muscles when they’re stressed or anxious, and they might not realize because they’ve become accustomed to it. Loosening your tight muscles with stretching exercises can help release tension in your body and help you feel much calmer.

Two important things to remember when stretching for stress relief are:

  • Don’t forget to breathe
  • Stretching should never hurt

Better Range of Motion

Stretching is great for helping individuals improve and maintain their range of motion. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand the importance of having optimal flexibility and range of motion. It’s more than just being extra bendy!

A good range of motion can help with several things, including:

  • Better balance
  • Better posture
  • Fewer aches
  • More strength
  • Better physical performance

Practitioner-assisted upper back stretch

Less Risk of Injury

Since stretching allows you to increase the range that a muscle can move, you’re less likely to injure yourself. Tighter muscles are more prone to strains and tearing during physical activities or even everyday tasks. Warming up with some dynamic stretches before a physical activity will get your blood circulating, which also decreases the tightness you may feel.

Not only is that beneficial for preventing strains or tears, but it can also increase your blood circulation. Better blood flow can help improve your recovery time.

Muscle Preparedness

As previously mentioned, warming up with dynamic stretches before a physical activity can prepare your muscles for the movements you’re about to do. It’s a great way to limber up and decrease your chances of pulling something. Properly prepared muscles can allow greater movement in your body, helping you perform much better physically.

Muscle preparedness helps them work more effectively, so don’t forget the importance of a warmup and good stretch session!

The Proper Way to Stretch and Strengthen Your Upper Back

Doing the right stretching exercises can make all the difference when it comes to neck and upper back soreness. The way you do these moves can also determine the outcome. There’s no point in stretching if you don’t do it properly. You’re only going to end up feeling worse!

If you want to loosen the muscles in your problem area, you should be doing a variety of stretches that target the neck, upper back, and shoulders. Many of these include neck rotations and shoulder rolls. You can achieve a deeper stretch with moves like the pectoral stretch and overhead arm reach when you visit a stretch-practitioner at Stretch Zone!

After you finish loosening the muscles that make up your upper back, you want to strengthen them. This is crucial for reducing and eliminating aches from poor posture or sitting all day. Below are a few exercises that can build strength in your upper back and shoulders. Remember to switch them up rather than doing the same move for the best results:

  • Rows
  • Reverse flies
  • Pullovers
  • Lat pulldowns

Other Ways to Prevent Upper Back Aches

Stretching is not the only way to help prevent aches in your upper back. You can do many other things to ensure yours is healthy and strong. After all, you want to do your daily activities without tightness and aches!

What else can you do to prevent injuries or discomfort in your upper back? Besides stretching, you’ll want to add these things to your everyday routine for a healthy back. You’ll notice a significant difference if you do these regularly!

  • Use proper lifting and carrying techniques
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintain muscle strength
  • Keep your core strong
  • Start a new activity gradually
  • Take breaks when sitting or standing for long periods

How Can the Stretch Zone Method Enhance Your Upper Back Stretches?

If you’re suffering from chronic discomfort in your upper back, shoulders, and neck, trying to stretch them on your own might not do you any good. Many of these muscles are not easy to target or might be so tight that they impact how well you can stretch them.

Fortunately, our team of experienced stretch-practitioners utilizes special tools and techniques to help target those areas. With our patented strapping system, we can stabilize and isolate certain muscle groups, allowing you to get the most benefits.

Some of these advantages include:

  • Reduces the sensation of fear and loss of control
  • Relaxes the muscles
  • Prevents the body from seeking the path of least resistance
  • Offers a mechanical advantage
  • Helps control stretch timing to overcome the stretch reflex

Learn the Best Upper Back Stretches to Eliminate Aches!

If years of poor posture have caused upper back discomfort, we have the solution you need. The team at Stretch Zone has helped many people suffering from aches by performing the best practitioner-assisted stretching exercises with them. We’re also dedicated to helping you discover the right moves you can do to help keep that discomfort away.

Are you interested in learning how a stretch session can help you? Head to your nearest Stretch Zone location and see what a difference it can make. Book your 30-minute appointment with us today!