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9 Stretches for Upper Back Pain Relief

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Most of us spend the majority of our time hunched over computers or phones, which is why back pain is a common problem for millions of Americans. If left untreated, back pains eventually affect an individual’s daily life or lead to more serious complications. But the good news is that even simple stretches everyday help relieve tension and ease back pain.

So what are the best stretches to relieve the pain in the upper back? Stretching the upper back helps relax tense muscles in the area. These simple exercises are the cat-cow pose, child’s pose, thoracic exercise, side-lying thoracic rotation, levator scapulae stretch, upper trapezius stretch, crocodile pose, butterfly wings, and neck tilts & rotations.

9 Upper Back Exercises to Relieve Pain

Feeling a bit of tightness and pain in the upper back? According to the American Chiropractic Association, around 80% of Americans suffer from back pains at least once in their life. There are several possible causes of back pain – from having a bad posture and rounded shoulders to being diagnosed with different spine conditions.

Luckily, even simple exercises like neck stretch and shoulder roll are enough to help relieve back pain most of the time. Certain routines were created by specialists to strengthen the muscles in the upper body and relieve muscle tension. Here are some of the simplest kinds of stretches recommended by chiropractors to ease back pain:

1. Cat-Cow Pose

This exercise is a simple stretch made up of two poses. It helps ease the pain felt in the middle to upper back areas. The cat-cow pose is better performed on a yoga mat.

  1. Start by getting down on all fours with the hands and knees on the floor. The neck and back must be in a straight and neutral pose.
  2. Arch the back upward slowly while tucking the chin into the chest muscles. Continue doing this until there’s a stretch along the spine. This is called the “cat pose.”
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds before returning to the neutral position.
  4. Start letting the lower back and stomach sink while lifting the chin and nose upward. This one is called the “cow pose.”
  5. Hold the cow pose for around a few seconds before returning to the neutral position.
  6. Repeat the two poses alternatively a few more times.

2. Child’s Pose

The child’s pose is a beginner yoga pose. It relieves the tension in the lower and upper back. It’s also helpful for improving the digestion of a person.

  1. Start the routine by getting on all fours. The hands and knees should be on the floor with the big toes touching each other.
  2. Slowly lower backside until the buttocks are on top of the feet. The arms must be straight, and the forehead should touch the floor.
  3. Hold this pose for several seconds.
  4. Return to the neutral position by pushing the arms upward.
  5. Repeat this exercise a few more times.

3. Thoracic Extension

This is an intense exercise, so make sure to avoid straining yourself by only spending a few minutes and starting with small movements.

  1. Sit on the floor. Place the foam roller behind the body. Ensure that the equipment is positioned perpendicular to the body.
  2. Lie on the back slowly so that the foam roller supports the upper back and the thoracic spine.
  3. The buttocks should stay on the floor. Interlock the fingers and put them behind the head to support its weight.
  4. Lean back slowly so that the upper back reaches over the foam roller. Let the shoulder blade touch the floor until the upper back is supported by the equipment.
  5. Hold the position and take deep breaths until the shoulder and back muscles relax.
  6. Repeat these steps a few more times without forcing the body into discomfort.

4. Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation

The upper back should rotate freely without hurting. The side-lying thoracic rotation is an exercise that improves the rotation of the spine, allowing the person to twist their bodies without much problem.

  1. Start the routine by lying on the left side. Both of the arms should be stretched out in front with the palms touching each other. Let the knee bend in front of the body. The head should be cushioned with a pillow or a yoga block.
  2. Slowly lift the right hand and open the right arm as if it’s a book, until it reaches the other side of the body. Make sure to follow this motion using the eyes and head.
  3. Hold this pose for a few seconds before returning to the original position.
  4. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
  5. Lie on the right side of the body and repeat these steps 10 more times.

5. Levator Scapulae Stretch

Upper back pains are often associated with neck pain because of poor posture. Hunching over a phone or computer strains the neck, which is why the muscles in this area start to ache. Levator scapulae exercises relieve the tension on the muscles around the neck. They also help improve an individual’s posture.

  1. Begin the routine by comfortably sitting on a chair. Straighten the posture and bring the shoulders back.
  2. Hold the bottom of the chair with the right hand.
  3. Bring the chin towards the chest and rotate it slightly so that it faces the left shoulder.
  4. Put the left hand at the top of the head and grip the head lightly with the fingers.
  5. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, pull the head downwards until there is pressure on the right side of the neck.
  6. Release the grip and return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat the movement on the right side of the body.
  8. Do the exercise three times for each side.

6. Upper Trapezius Stretch

“Text neck” refers to the pain and tension in the trapezius muscle. It’s a muscle group shaped like a rhomboid in the back that spans from the back of the neck down to the lower region. The upper trapezius stretch relieves the tight muscles in this area. It’s an easy routine done regardless if the person is standing or sitting.

  1. Tilt the head towards the left shoulder slowly. Let the ear get close to the shoulder without straining the body. The right shoulder usually lifts with this motion but try your best to keep the shoulders square.
  2. Lift the left arm over the head and place the palm over the right cheek. Let it rest there as you take deep and focused breaths. Continue doing this for about 30 seconds before lifting the hand.
  3. Return to the neutral position and repeat the process on the right side.

7. Crocodile Pose

The crocodile pose is a simple routine that brings huge pain relief to the neck and upper back. It’s one of the easiest yoga poses that even beginners can do without exerting much effort.

  1. Start by lying face down on a yoga mat. The feet should be apart by shoulder-width. The heels must be turned inward while the toes are outwards. Let the hands rest at the sides.
  2. Slowly lift the legs, head, and torso at the same time as you exhale.
  3. Lift both arms and interlock the fingers before putting them behind the head.
  4. Hold this position for about 30 seconds before returning to the original position.
  5. Repeat this routine a few more times without straining the body.

8. Butterfly Wings

Butterfly wings stretches are the most effective exercise for relieving back pain because it specifically targets the entire upper back.

  1. Sit comfortably on a chair and keep a good posture throughout the exercise.
  2. Put both palms on the shoulders – right palm on the right shoulder and left palm on the right shoulder. Avoid applying pressure to the neck or shoulders because they might cause discomfort.
  3. While keeping the hands in place, pull the elbows back as if you’re forcing them to touch. Keep this up until there’s a gentle stretch in the upper back.
  4. Hold this pose for up to 10 seconds before returning to the neutral position.
  5. Pull each elbow forward and make them touch in front of the body.
  6. Hold this pose for up to 10 seconds then return to the neutral position.
  7. Repeat both poses a few more times.

9. Neck Tilts and Rotations

The upper trapezius muscle is especially tense if a person hunches over a phone or computer for a long time. Performing simple neck exercises frequently help ease the tension that starts forming in this area.

  1. Begin the routine by looking straight ahead and relaxing the shoulders. Keep the hands at the side and maintain a good posture.
  2. Tilt the chin down as if you’re looking at the foot. Hold this position for about 10 to 20 seconds before returning to look ahead.
  3. Tilt the head back and look at the ceiling for about 10 to 20 seconds.
  4. Switch between these two poses a few more times.
  5. Return to the starting position before proceeding to the next set of neck tilts.
  6. Tilt the head to the left side by bringing the ear towards the shoulder. Don’t let the chin drop or the shoulder rise.
  7. Hold this stretch for about 10 to 20 seconds before doing the same on the right side.
  8. Repeat this exercise a few more times.

Important Reminders Before Stretching Exercises

Stretching Exercises

Before starting any kind of stretching exercise, always remember that patients aren’t supposed to feel pain during the session. Feeling a bit of pressure in the back and neck areas is normal, but sharp pains are a sign to stop the exercise immediately. If you’re guided by a physical therapist or chiropractor, make sure to tell them about any discomfort immediately.

Another essential thing to keep in mind is the importance of proper breathing. Make sure to inhale and exhale steadily during stretching exercises to avoid tension buildup in the muscles. Holding the breath only increases the body’s production of lactic acid and prevents oxygenated blood from reaching the muscles. Lactic acid buildup leads to soreness and pain in the muscles.

Lastly, make sure that you have the right equipment needed for each exercise. Most stretching exercises require a yoga mat, yoga block, resistance band, and other materials.

When Should I Visit a Doctor for Upper Back Pain?

Stretching exercises help relieve upper back pain, but this isn’t a miracle treatment that works in all cases. Consulting with a doctor or a spine specialist is better to determine the source of back pain and find the best treatment plan. Here are six red flags that tell you to see a doctor for upper back pain:

Back Pains? New York Pain Care Can Help

Here at New York Pain Care, we want to help our patients with their back pain so they may return to their daily routines as soon as possible. Our team of high-skilled doctors performs accurate diagnoses for back pain to come up with the best treatment options for each patient.

If you’re looking for a way to avoid surgery and relieve back pain, New York Pain Care is the best pain management center for you. Our services include acupuncture, medical massage, and physical therapy to provide each patient with holistic treatments for their condition. Get in touch with us today by calling (646) 846-1824.

Learn more: What Causes Upper Back Pain When Breathing?

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Page Updated on Apr 16, 2021 by Dr. Hosny (Interventional Spine Specialist) of New York Pain Care
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