Upper back injuries occur more often when the muscles and other tissue surrounding your joints are weakened. Like any muscle, your back muscles require some exercise to keep their strength up and decompress to reduce wear and tear. Whether you work in an office or as a laborer, special exercises targeting your upper back can help prevent herniated discs and other serious injuries.
Of course, exercising isn’t enough to prevent all back injuries. Make sure to avoid slips and falls, and work to improve your posture as much as possible. General wear and tear on your back can also sneak up on you if you’re not careful.
If you’re already having upper back pain, a licensed chiropractor can help diagnose the problem correctly, and assign a custom treatment plan to help your injury heal. However, for everyday maintenance, you can manage your health and even prevent the need for later surgeries by using these exercises.
1. Scapular Squeeze
Stand and place your arms down at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, pushing your shoulders back. You should feel some light pressure along your spine. Hold this for five seconds, then do 2-3 sets of 15 squeezes.
2. Cat-Cow Pose
This yoga position is best done with a yoga mat on the floor. On your hands and knees, lower your stomach close to the floor while keeping your arms straight and your knees at a right angle. Slowly arch your back, tilting your head and neck down, so you’re staring back at your knees or thighs. Revert to the original pose, moving slowly to avoid straining any muscles. Repeat this movement 8-10 times. You should feel a stretch in your mid and upper back.
3. Thoracic Stretch
This stretch should be done daily to keep your upper back in peak condition. Sit on the floor and stretch your legs in front of you, with your feet together. Place your hand under the middle of your thighs. Carefully curl your neck and head down, aiming your face toward your belly button as much as possible. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat three times per day.
4. Thoracic Extension
Sit in a chair or on the floor with a foam roller behind your back. Clasp both hands behind your head and gently lean back, taking care to arch through your upper back and shoulders. You should be able to feel the tension in your shoulder blades. Repeat 10 times and do at least one set in the morning and one in the evening. This exercise is also good for your core muscles, so it’s highly recommended for anyone trying to tone up.
5. Pectoralis Stretch
Stand in the corner of a room with your hands slightly above your head. Place your hands against the walls in front of you and lean forward. If you don’t feel a push against your shoulder muscles, lean forward a little more. Hold for 30 seconds and do three sets per day.
6. Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation
Start out lying on your right side, with your knees bent, and your arms stretched out in front of you. Touch your palms together and slowly lift your left arm, spreading it wide as if offering someone a hug. Continue opening your arm wide until you’ve rolled your arm, and head all the way over to the left, but with your knees still facing to the right. Your upper back should be flat against the floor, and the muscles just below your shoulders should feel a nice stretch.
Repeat 8-10 times on your right side, then do on your left side. Do this stretch at least once a day on a yoga mat, if possible.
7. Shoulder Blade Stretch
Extend your upper arms in front of you and bend your forearms upward. Place your left elbow on top of your right elbow, so that your left palm is open to your right. Bend and wrap your left forearm around your right forearm and push your right fingers against the palm of your felt hand. If you don’t feel a stretch between your shoulder blades, raise your arms higher.
Hold this pose for 30 seconds, then switch so your right elbow is on top of your left elbow. Repeat once per day or as needed to relieve tension.