8 Best Upper Back Stretches For Pain Relief

upper back stretches for pain

Are You Having Upper Back Pain And You’re Looking For Upper Back Stretches For Pain Relief?

You’re in the right place because we will talk about 10 best upper back stretches for the pain you’re struggling to get rid of.

There are many types of stretches such as dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching, isometric stretching, and PNF stretching. You can read more about the difference between Static and Dynamic Stretching.

In this article, we will focus on static stretching which stretches you hold in position (sitting, standing, lying on the ground) for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  The stretches are followed with deep breathing and relax your mind.

One thing you need to keep in mind is STRETCHING MUST BE PAIN-FREE.  A lot of people misunderstood the concept of “No Pain, No Gain”, and this does not apply when you stretch because if you feel pain, most likely you’re overstretching the muscle.  Overstretch muscle means there are microtear or damage to the muscle fibers.

If you continue to stretch in pain, you will injure your muscle. So please keep in mind that you want to feel the stretch, but make sure it is pain-free at all times.  Slow and deep breathing during your stretch will calm your mind and body.

What Can Cause Pain In Left Upper Back?

  • Poor Posture
    • Poor posture is hard to notice unless your friends or professional train specialist point it out for you.  Our body naturally balances our eyesights to keep us level, even if one of your shoulders is 1 inch higher than the other.  We learn to adapt and not notice how much your head is leaning forward.
  • Overuse Activities
    • Job-related, or exercise.  Overuse activities included physical labor and non-physical labor activities. For example, a cook who repetitively tosses the frying pan may experience similar pain the upper back as a receptionist who repetitively picks up the calls in a busy office (in a case that the company did not provide a headset).  Both jobs repeat the same motions over and over, and it causes overuse in the muscles.
    • Advertisement
  • Accident
    •  Car accident
    • Falling with outreach hand to brace your fall
    • Sports injury
    • Work-related injury.
  • Medical Conditions 
    • Herniated Disc
    • Muscle spasm
    • Muscle strain
    • Pinched nerve
    • Heart attack (usually the pain is on the left arm, between the left shoulder blade, upper abdominal pain. Call 911 if you suspect you’re having a heart attack)
    • Osteoarthritis – joints pain, neck, and lower back pain

Upper back pain is more common because we spend more time looking down on our smartphone and computer/laptop.  Our head normally weighs 10-12 lb, and the weight will increase depending on the degrees of our head tilting down when we use our phone or computer.

upper back stretches for pain

What Is Upper Cross Syndrome?

As we spend more time looking down for a long time, our upper back posture starting to worsen.  Your head is more forward in comparison to our shoulders. We call this forward head carriage which is a common cause of poor posture.  The forward head carriage is the result of weak and tight muscles in the upper back and neck.

The more time you spend looking down at your phone, the tighter is your neck flexor muscles and the weaker is the neck extensor muscles.  When the balance between the extensor and flexor muscle occurs, you will notice more aches in the neck and upper back, stabbing pain in the mid-back, or muscle cramp in the mid-back.

This is why upper back pain is more common in young adults or even as young as high schoolers because they spend more time on their phone, and studying on their laptop.

The Benefits of Upper Back and Torso Stretch?

I know stretching is not fun, a matter of fact, it is very boring. Who wants to spend 15 minutes staying in one position? And it can be difficult sometimes, but the benefits of the upper back stretch for pain relief is something worth doing because of the benefit you gain from 10-15 minutes daily.  You can do your stretch when you watch TV, commercial break, waiting for a bus, waiting for a train, or waiting for your meeting to start.

Stretching is not like weight lifting what you after 2 sets of a biceps curl, you feel your muscle got bigger. But stretching takes time to show effect. You need to be consistent and patient for your muscle to lengthen.

Here are some benefit of the upper back and torso stretch:

  • Increase blood flow to the muscles to increase recovery time
  • Improve overall performance with increased flexibility and range of motion of muscles
  • Improve posture
  • Decrease muscle soreness
  • Decrease overstretch injury from a tight muscle
  • Decrease stress and relax tension in your muscle
  • Decrease anxiety
  • Improve breathing
  • Sleep better

What Muscles Are The Stretches For Upper Back Pain In Between Shoulder Blades?

The muscles you commonly want to stretch for upper back pain in between shoulder blades are the rhomboid, upper trapezius, middle trapezius, lower trapezius, levator scapulae, latissimus dorsi, multifidus, and erector spinae.

1. Rhomboid Muscle Stretch

  • Rhomboid muscle retract and elevate the inner border of your shoulder blade
  • The rhomboid stretch will help improve and maintain the flexibility of your mid-back and maintain a balance upper body during vertical jump
  • Here are the steps for Seated Rhomboid Stretch
    • Sit on a chair with both feet shoulder-width apart
    • Reach your left arm across to the right inner ankle
    • Rest your right elbow on your right knee to maintain balance
    • Gently turn your upper body toward the right side, you can use your right elbow to assist
    • You should feel the stretch on your mid-back between the shoulder blade
    • Hold in position for 30 seconds
    • Repeat the above steps on the other side

2. Levator Scapulae Stretch

  • Levator Scapulae muscle attaches from the transverse process of Cervical (C1-C4) to the superior angle of the medial border of the scapula
  • The action of Levator scapulae is to raise the shoulder blade. So tightness in this muscle will cause stiffness in the neck and upper back.
  • Here are the steps for Levator scapulae stretch
    • Raise your right arm straight up to the ceiling, bend your elbow so your hand is placed in the middle of your spine (finger is pointing downward)
    • Turn your nose toward the opposite side (left side), you should feel the stretch on the right side
    • You can use your left hand, reach over to the right elbow to gently pull toward the left side to get a deeper stretch.
    • You can also do this stretch while standing with your elbow bend like the first step, place your elbow on the wall to give you the support, turn your neck to the opposite side
    • You can gently place your left-hand right side of your head and gently pull down to the left for a deeper stretch,
    • Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, repeat on another side

3. Foam Roller Upper Back In Extension Movement

  • Use a foam roller, (use a smooth surface is preferred, the Blue color foam roller is softer, the Black one is more firm)
  • Advertisement
  • Place the foam roller on the floor horizontal across your mid-back, plant both feet on the ground for stabilization and support.
  • You can cross your arms across your chest or raise your arm overhead
  • Slowly move up and down along your thoracic spine (upper back to mid-back)
  • Make sure you don’t roam roll your lower back, Find more here on why foam roller of the lower back is not recommended. 
  • Make sure your movement is slow and steady, you may hear cracking should in your spine which is normal.
  • Foam roll for 5 minutes

4. Latissimus Dorsi Stretch

  • Lat muscle pulls the humerus down and causes extension and internal rotation of the humerus
  • Lat stretch will lessen the resistance of the humerus in upper reach (if your shoulder have more range of motion in upward reach, it will assist you in your dunk)
  • Here are the steps for Lat Stretch
    • This stretch can be done by standing or kneeling on the floor, find a horizontal bar such, tabletop, or a box or chair when you’re kneeling
    • You stand arm’s length distant in front of the bar or tabletop
    • Take a deep breath and breath out then slowly bend your body toward the floor while maintaining your hands on the bar or tabletop, you should feel the stretch in your back. Make sure you slowly stretch.
    • Hold in position for 30 seconds to 1 minute
    • Take a deep breath and breath out, then slowly come back up

5. Erector Spinae Stretch

erector spinae stretch


  • The erector spinae is a long extensor muscle along with your spine. Child pose from yoga move (with a slight variation) is great to stretch your erector spinae.
  • Use a yoga mat is preferred for hard surface, you are in a kneeling position (sit your butt on both your heels, you can spread your heels apart for someone with less flexibility), flex your trunk by bringing your chest as close to your thigh, your head should be resting on the yoga mat.
  • Straighten both arms and place it above your head (this will further extend your erector spinae)
  • Breath through your stretch, you can remain in this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or longer

6. Doorway Pec Stretch

  • The Pectoral (pectoralis major and pectoralis minor) connects from the chest to the shoulder and upper arm. Pecs muscles are tight in most people because we spend a lot of time on your phone or computer.  Weight lifters are common with tight pec due to overused muscle.
  • Here are the steps for the Doorway Pec stretch:
  • Stand by the door, raise both arms 90 degrees to the side, elbows are bend, place your elbows on the doorframe
  • Advertisement
  • Step forward one step to feel the stretch on your pecs, make sure your body is straight without rotation of the trunk to avoid excessive pressure on the shoulders.
  • You can do one side a time instead of stretching both pecs at the same time, follow the same steps above, but you’re placing one arm on the doorframe. Make sure your body is straight without rotation when you step forward to avoid injury to the shoulder due to excessive stress on the shoulder joint.
  • Hold in position for 30 seconds to 1 minute

7. Cat Cow Stretch

  • Cat cow stretch is great to stretch out your back, hips, and abdomen muscles. This exercise is great for warmup and post-workout stretch.
  • You’re on your ground with both hands and knees on the ground
  • Take a deep breath in, arch your lower back upward, with your head looking up, drop your belly closer to the ground. hold for 10-30 seconds.
  • Breathe out, slowly arch your upper back upward to the sky, tug your tailbone in, your neck and head should flex and look down on the ground. hold in this position for 10–30 seconds

8. Trunk Rotation Stretch

  • Lie on your back with hip and knee bend at 90-90 degree, you can use a tennis ball, baseball, or a small yoga roll between the knee
  • Spread both arms out the side
  • Gently rotate your knee to the right, keep the hip and knee bend at 90 degrees, your head will turn to the opposite side (Left)
  • Hold in position for 30 seconds – 1 minute
  • Slowly return to the starting position and repeats for the opposite side
  • Alternation for trunk rotation stretch is to lie on your back with both knees bent, both feet are flat on the floor, next steps is the same as above


Upper back pain is common, and it does not raise a major concern.  Usually, over-counter-medication, stretching, exercise can help relieve upper back pain.  See a doctor if your pain doesn’t go away, or worsen.  Your doctor can rule out if your upper back pain is caused by musculature, joints, bone, or other underlying diseases.  If you’re unsure of the upper back stretches for pain exercise demonstrated above, speak with your doctor before you continue with the stretch.

Related Post:  

  1. 6 Best Static and Dynamic stretching To Increase Flexibility
  2. Hip Flexor Strain: Symptom, Treatment, Prevention
  3. Lower Cross Syndrome: Does It Cause Lower Back Pain?
  4. Unlock Your Hip Flexors Review 2020: Scam or Legit?
  5. Foam Roller For Lower Back! Harmful or Benefit For You?