Sitting at a desk, driving in your car, and even working out can all cause upper back pain and stiffness. Sitting at a desk or in a car for an extended period of time leads to tightness in the hips, hamstrings, chest, shoulders, the muscles of the upper back, and the neck. This causes poor posture and upper back pain.
Exercising, specifically strength training, can also lead to upper back pain. When we exercise a muscle, we are putting it under tension, which causes a breakdown of the muscle fibers. The muscle fibers then repair themselves, coming back stronger and larger. While this is great, if we don’t add in proper stretching, these stronger muscle fibers become tight and knots (adhesions in the muscle) can form.
If you want to prevent upper back pain or relieve existing pain, it is essential to add proper stretching to your everyday routine.
These gentle stretches can be done twice daily for optimal results, especially if you know that you will be sitting for a long period of time or working out. Schedule them whenever you want to give your back a break and ease tension.
9 Gentle Stretches to Release Upper Back Pain
Cat-Cow | 60 sec
This classic yoga combination improves the mobility of the spine and relieves tension in both the chest and upper back.
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Stack your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
- Inhale to lower your belly towards the floor, tilting your tailbone up and pressing your chest forward. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and your neck long.
- Then, exhale to round your spine. Tilt your tailbone down towards the floor and draw your navel up and in. Bring your chin towards your chest and feel a nice stretch along your back. Continue alternating with your inhales and exhales for 60 seconds.
Child’s Pose | 60 sec
Your lats are wing-shaped muscles of the upper back that become tight and knotted from sitting. This classic yoga pose helps to stretch them back out.
- Begin on your hands and knees on your mat. Separate your knees out wide and bring your toes together.
- Sit your hips all the way back onto your heels and then walk your hands towards the top of your mat.
- Lower your forehead down and walk your hands forward until your arms are straight and you feel a stretch through the sides of your body and shoulders. Relax your shoulders and arms and hold for 60 seconds, breathing deeply.
Child’s Pose Side Stretch | 30 sec per side
This child’s pose variation deepens the stretching of the lats and helps to relieve tightness in the intercostal muscles between the ribs, which get tight from back exercises and sitting.
- Start in your child’s pose position.
- Walk your hands over to the right edge of the mat. Stack your left hand over your right and interlace the fingers.
- Gently bump your hips over to the left to feel a nice stretch along the left side of your body. Stay here and breathe deeply into the little muscles between your ribs. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Double V | 30 sec per side
Reverse the tightness and pain in the muscles between your shoulder blades with this gentle stretch.
- Lie down on your belly and prop yourself up onto your forearms. Place a yoga block or pillow at the top of your mat.
- Rotate your right fingers to point towards the left edge of your mat. The forearm should now go across the mat. Then, rotate your left fingers to point towards the right edge of your mat, bringing your forearms parallel to one another.
- Position your chest over your forearms. Then, walk your hands towards the edges of the mat, straightening them. Lower your forehead onto the block.
- Take deep breaths, feeling your upper back and shoulders stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch the crossing of your arms and repeat on the other side.
Knee Rolls | 20 reps
Tight hips lead to poor posture which leads to upper back pain. This dynamic stretch reverses all that.
- Lie down on the mat facing up, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Reach your arms straight out to the sides and then bend your elbows to 90-degree angles so that you feel a stretch through your chest.
- Separate your feet wide to the edges of the mat. On an exhale, lower your knees to the left.
- Inhale your knees to point back up towards the sky, then exhale and lower them to the right. Continue rotating your knees side to side for 20 reps. You should feel your hips and lower back loosening up.
Arm Slide on Wall | 12 reps
This stretch improves the mobility of the shoulders and reverses chest tightness, which helps to relieve upper back pain.
- Sit up against a wall with your legs crossed.
- Lift your arms up and bend your elbows to 90-degree angles. Press your arms up against the wall.
- Keeping your arms on the wall, inhale to reach your arms up overhead and bring your fingertips to touch.
- Then, exhale to lower them back down. Repeat for 12 repetitions.
Upper Trap-Neck Stretch | 30 sec per side
Tightness in the upper trapezius muscle is a common source of upper back and neck pain. This simple feel-good stretch can help to release it.
- Start in a seat. Interlace your hands behind your lower back and then bring your hands outside of your right hip. Point your right elbow back.
- Take an exhale as you lower your right ear towards your right shoulder. Keep the left shoulder from lifting and feel a stretch along the left side of your neck and shoulder.
- Then slowly tilt your chin down slightly towards your right shoulder to get more into the back of the neck. Notice where you feel the most sensation and hold there for 30 seconds. Then switch sides.
Seated Twist | 30 sec per side
This stretch increases mobility in the mid and upper spine and relieves tightness in the upper back muscles.
- Sit on your mat with your legs straight out in front of you. Cross your right leg over your left to place your right foot outside of your left thigh.
- Tent your right fingertips behind you and inhale to reach your left arm up towards the sky. Exhale to twist your torso to the right, bend your left elbow, and hook your left elbow outside of your right thigh.
- Hold for 30 seconds. With each inhale, lengthen your spine; with each exhale, twist a little bit further. After 30 seconds, switch sides.
Seated Side Bend | 30 sec per side
This stretch opens up the lats and the intercostal muscles, creating space in the ribcage and relieving upper back pain and stiffness.
- Start in a seat. Sit on a yoga block or pillow if your hips feel tight, and then crisscross your legs.
- Place your right palm on the floor by your right hip. Inhale to reach your left arm straight up towards the sky. Bend your elbow to take your hand behind your head. Exhale to lean up and over to the right.
- Keep your hip from lifting off the floor or block and continue side bending to feel a big stretch along the left side of your body. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
(Your Next Workout: 8 Stretches To Release Low Back SI Joint Pain)