4 Upper Back Stretches to Improve Posture

Do you often find yourself sitting in a slouched posture with rounded shoulders? Or do you have a lot of pain through your middle/upper back after sitting for prolonged periods? These are both really common problems as many of our daily activities promote “bad” posture (sitting at computer, breastfeeding, playing games on a phone). This causes the muscles in your chest to get really tight while your back muscles get stretched out and weak. In return, your back may become stiff and get stuck in a rounded posture that can contribute to pain.

One of the best things you can do for back pain is to KEEP MOVING. Even if you sit with perfect posture all day, you might still have pain because your body is meant to move. Below are four upper back stretches you can do throughout the day to stretch the muscles and ligaments of your spine and chest to improve mobility and decrease pain!

Open Book

This is one of our favorite stretches for stretching out the small joints of the thoracic spine (aka mid back). It also allows you to open up your body to stretch some of the muscles on the front of your chest that can get really tight when you sit with rounded shoulders. I recommend doing this one in the morning when you’re lying in bed and at night before you go to sleep! Start by laying on your side with your knees bent to a 90 degree angle and your arms straight out in front of you. Open up your top arm and slowly rotate your torso as far as you can, forming a ‘T’ shape with your arms (try not to move your lower body). Hold the end position for 5 seconds, then return to the starting position. Make sure to follow your arm with your head as you open and close. Perform this exercise 15-20 times on each side!

Open Book
Open Book

Thread the Needle

This is another exercise that targets rotation through your upper back. Start in a hands and knees position, then ‘thread’ one arm through the gap between your other arm and leg, allowing your upper body to rotate as far as you are able. Then pull your arm back the opposite direction and reach up towards the sky and behind you as far as you comfortably can, allowing your torso to rotate the other direction. Hold the stretch for 2-3 seconds in each position. Perform this exercise 15-20 times with each arm!

Thread the Needle
Thread the Needle

Cat Cow

This one might be a familiar stretch, but we love it because it targets the whole spine! Again, start in a hands and knees position. Start by rounding your back up towards the ceiling, allowing your shoulder blades to separate. It may be helpful to think of a string pulling you up from the middle of your back. Hold this position for a couple of seconds, then arch your back the opposite direction and push your tummy towards the floor. Remember to keep your arms straight throughout the whole exercise.

TIP: Try coordinating this exercise with belly breathing! Breath in as you arch your back and look up to the ceiling, and exhale as you round your back and look down towards the floor

Cat Cow
Cat Cow

Scapular Retraction

This last one is a bonus because not only are you stretching the muscles in the front, but you are exercising the muscles in the back. Your scapular stabilizers (fancy name for the muscles that pull your shoulder blades together) are super important for maintaining good posture throughout the day as well as assisting with any sort of lifting activity. To activate these muscles, start by sitting or standing in good posture with shoulders directly over hips. Squeeze your shoulder blades together WITHOUT shrugging your shoulders up to your ear. Think about pulling your shoulder blade down and back, almost as if you are reaching towards the opposite back pocket. Hold this for 5 seconds, then return to neutral. Perform 10-15 times, every hour throughout the day to wake these muscles up and get you out of any sort of slouched posture!

Scapular Retraction
Scapular Retraction

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