The process of your body tightening up from the everyday rigors and stressors of life and the undoing of them by stretching is continuous.
As sitting for long periods is a part of my job, I have neck and upper back pain. I’ve already covered 3 neck stretches you can do to release stress. But as with most of our bodies, specific parts rely on others, as is the case with the neck and upper back’s symbiotic relationship. If you have one stretched but not the other, all of your hard work could amount to a half-hearted effort at nixing the problematic aches and pains you deal with daily.
With any region of the body, it’s important to remember many stretches can be done to reduce pain, but your ability to identify which ones work best for you comes down to how well you know your body. Because I am constantly hunched over glaring at a computer screen or looking at my phone, my upper back pays for it. Because of this, I try to stay consistent with the following stretches.
Here are 3 stretches to relieve upper back pain:
You must look within yourself and find the key identifiers of your pain. Why does your upper back or lower back hurt? Do you sit or bend over a lot? Do you have other tight areas of your body? Because they matter. For example, if you sit all day, you probably have tight hip flexors, and if you have tight hip flexors, it can create anterior pelvic tilt. If you have tight hip adductors, which help us stand and have balance, it can put a tremendous amount of pressure on your knee or other areas of your hip, causing injuries.
You have to think of your body as a vessel that’ll do anything to get the job done. Meaning, if your body feels one area of it is tight but that you still want to complete a movement, it’ll utilize a different body part, even at your detriment, to make a move possible. Often your body overcompensates in specific areas to make up for weaker ones, causing muscle imbalances.
The cat-cow stretch is excellent because it targets the upper and middle back. Once again, the upper helps the middle, and the middle helps the lower. They are all connected and feed off of each other. You want each one to be stable.
Cat-Cow Stretch: You start by getting down on all fours. You’ll want to begin in a neutral position with your back and neck flat. Also, make sure your knees are directly below your hips. Now, slowly sink your chest towards the ground while simultaneously lifting your neck, looking straight on. Hold this position for 5 seconds and return to neutral. Then, you’ll do the complete opposite by rounding out your back and shoulders while tucking your chin in, pulling your head down. Hold this position for 5 seconds and go back and forth between the two positions at least ten times. As with any stretch, breathing is vital. More specifically, when you are sinking your chest or rounding out your back, breathing allows you to accentuate these poses, allowing for a deeper stretch.
Another upper back stretch to relieve pain targets the thoracic spine, which runs from your abdomen up to the bottom of your neck. Pain in the thoracic spine is most often caused by poor posture. If you’ve been sitting all day, and you don’t pinch yourself every time you slouch, chances are, your upper back hurts. Creating a solid posture is a fundamental preventative measure to overcoming back pain in the first place.
Thoracic Extension Stretch: You’ll start by laying down flat on your back. I recommend using a foam roller, but if you don’t have one, roll up a yoga mat or a towel. Then, place it near the middle of your back, about half a foot below your shoulder blades. Now take your hands, place them behind your head, and lean back towards the ground as you breathe. Hold the position for about 10 seconds and repeat. Do it about 5 times in each spot, 20 in total, working your way up the middle of your back until you get to the very bottom of your shoulder blades. Make sure to exaggerate your breath as much as possible when you lean back to deepen the stretch.
Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, muscle groups and bones depend on other muscle groups and bones. Often, when the upper back is tight, it directly results from the chest also being tight. Hunching over at a desk causes your neck to slouch, upper back muscles to tighten as they overcompensate for your head’s weight, and chest to weaken as it is not being activated. This stretch is fantastic because you can do it anywhere, and no one will question you.
Pectoral Stretch: You start by standing up straight near a doorway or anything else that is shoulder height, which you can grab on to, then you’ll place one arm back and slightly face the other way. You should feel an intense stretch as it opens up your chest while lessening the impact on your shoulders and upper back. You’re attempting to do the opposite of what sitting at a desk does: pull your head, shoulders, and upper back forward, and gently pull those areas back to where they should be. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds on each arm and complete it a few times. As always, make sure you breathe deeply.
The 3 stretches to relieve upper back pain include cat-cow, thoracic extension, and pectoral stretch. These stretches assist me individually, but you may have different pain issues than I do. These upper back stretches have helped me tremendously in pursuing a healthier, more well-balanced life without constant aches and pains. These are just a few examples, and knowing your body, which comes with experience, will help you select which stretches are most effective for you.