How to stretch your upper back

Let’s take a look at how to do some of the stretches that can help relieve and prevent upper back pain.

We’re not exactly kind to our upper backs. As a result, it’s an area that’s often prone to quite a lot of pain. We’ve already talked about how back problems can manifest themselves in office workers, but it’s not just computer and phone usage that can lead to pain in that area. Regularly carrying a bag and even sleeping a bit funny can cause the kinds of strains and muscle knots that lead you to need to stretch your upper back and shoulder area.

We’re not entirely to blame for our upper back problems however. It’s a vastly complex part of the body with an awful lot crammed in to one area. There are loads of muscles and ligaments doing a great many jobs like helping to control neck and arm movements, as well as large vertebrae, spinal processes and even ribs thrown into the equation. No wonder that it tends to go wrong! Knowing how to properly stretch your upper back, however, can help ease or prevent quite a lot of discomfort.

The main muscles in the upper back that we’re looking to target with these stretches are the upper trapezius, the levator scapulae, the rhomboids, deltoids and latissimus dorsi. You don’t need to remember all of those, but this diagram might give you a better idea of what we’re talking about (and might help you out the next time you’re in a pub quiz) –

Child’s Pose

This one is for stretching your latissimus dorsi which, like your trapezius is quite a big muscle.

  • Kneel down with your knees a little bit wider than your hips.
  • Lean your backside down so that it’s touching your heels.
  • Straighten your arms out ahead of you and let your head fall forwards.
  • Hold for 15-20 seconds and repeat as many times as you feel like.

This should give you a good stretch towards the outer middle section of your back.

Arm Rolls

Arm rolls look easy because they are. Unless of course you’re experiencing a lot of pain and tightness in that area.

  • Hold your arm out straight in front of you.
  • Rotate in a wide front-to-back or back-to-front circle.
  • Continue the rotation for as long as you like.

You’ll probably hear some clicking sounds from your joints while you do this. Unless it’s specifically causing you pain, it’s nothing to worry about. It can really help you loosen out the shoulder area.

Seated Levator Scapulae Stretch

We’ve already covered stretching the levator scapulae muscle when discussing back problems in office workers, but as it’s such a problem area, this is still a great stretch to bear in mind.

  • Starting seated, grab the bottom of your chair with your right hand.
  • Drop your chin towards your chest and roll your head towards your left shoulder.
  • With your left arm, gently push your head down towards your left armpit until you feel a slight stretch on the right side of your neck.
  • Hold for 10 seconds but don’t repeat more than 3-4 times per side as you don’t want to overdo this one.

Shoulder Stretch

You’ll struggle to find anyone who hasn’t tried this at some point. That’s because it’s often a part of sports warm-ups and it’s generally a stretch that brings a good bit of relief.

  • Cross one arm across your chest.
  • Using the other arm, pull the crossed arm in towards the chest from around the elbow or higher.
  • Hold for 10-15 seconds and repeat 3-4 times per side.

You should feel a serious stretch between your rhomboid and trepezius muscles.

Eagle Pose

Stetching your rhomboids and your deltoids, this one is good for reducing tightness between the shoulder blades.

  • Place your right elbow on your left elbow.
  • Wrap your left hand around your right arm (harder than it looks).
  • You can apply as much pressure in the stretch as is comfortable.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Much like the lower back, these kinds of stretches shouldn’t only be used when you feel a twinge or a knot. You should work them into your everyday warm-up or stretching routine. Doing this and knowing how to stretch your upper back not only feels great, but making sure those muscles are getting regularly used and stretched means that you could potentially avoid future pain and knotty suffering.

As ever, self-diagnosis and self-treatment is no match for the services of a skilled professional. So if you’re in a lot of pain, stretching isn’t bringing much relief or a little niggle just won’t go away, it’s best to consult your doctor or even give us a shout!