If you suffer from chronic upper back tension or pain, learning how to properly decompress your upper back can provide welcome relief. The upper back runs from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage and includes important muscles like the trapezius, rhomboids, levator scapulae, and latissimus dorsi. When these muscles get tight and knotted up, it can cause pain between the shoulder blades, difficulty turning the head from side to side, headaches, and poor posture.
Fortunately, there are many simple ways to decompress the upper back muscles at home without expensive equipment or massage therapy. Here are some of the most effective techniques to add to your self-care routine:
Try Gentle Yoga Twists
One of the easiest ways to create length in the upper back is through gentle yoga twisting poses. Poses like Seated Twist and Reclining Twist gently wring out the muscles on either side of the spine, creating space between the vertebrae. Be sure to move slowly and mindfully, only twisting as far as feels good for your body. Breathe deeply into areas of tightness and hold the poses for 5-10 slow breaths. Yoga straps can help support proper alignment if needed.
Roll on a Foam Roller
Using a foam roller to self-massage the upper back is an excellent way to target trigger points and muscle knots. Lay face up with the roller positioned horizontally under your upper back. Bend your knees and keep your feet on the floor. Raise your hips slightly off the ground and use your arms and legs to roll slowly up and down along the upper back. Adjust the pressure as needed, rolling over any tender spots for 10-15 seconds until they release. Focus on areas like between the shoulder blades, the outer edges of the shoulder blades, and along the spine.
Stretch Your Chest
When the chest muscles get tight, it can pull the shoulders forward in poor posture and compress the upper back. Be sure to stretch the chest regularly to counteract this. The Doorway Chest Stretch is easy to do anywhere with a door frame. Stand in a doorway with your feet together. Raise your arms to shoulder height and place your forearms and hands against the door frame. Step forward through the doorway to feel a stretch across your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on each side. You can also stretch the chest lying on your back with a small exercise ball or foam roller between your shoulder blades.
Try Shoulder Rolls
One of the quickest ways to release upper back tension is through simple shoulder rolls. Sit or stand with good posture. Inhale and raise your shoulders up toward your ears. Exhale and roll your shoulders backward and down in a circular motion. Repeat for 30-60 seconds in each direction. Shoulder rolls mobilize the shoulder joints and loosen up the surrounding muscles. Do this several times throughout the day to keep the upper back feeling open.
Get a Massage
Of course, nothing can replace the decompression effects of regular massage therapy. Having a professional massage therapist address the upper back can work wonders for chronic tension. Look for modalities like Swedish massage, trigger point therapy, myofascial release, or structural integration. Communicate any problem areas you want them to focus on. Schedule massages as often as your budget allows, even once a month can decompress muscle tension before it builds up.
Use a Back Roller
Back rollers provide a convenient way to massage hard-to-reach spots on your own. They are cylinders with knobs or ridges designed to be rolled over the upper back against a wall. Lean into tender areas and roll side-to-side and up-and-down along the upper back. Adjust pressure as needed. Use daily after activities like sitting at a desk or driving for quick relief. Carry one in your work bag or car for on-the-go decompression.
Improve Your Posture
Poor seated and standing posture can hugely contribute to upper back tension. Make sure to stand tall with shoulders back and avoid hunching over desks and devices during the day. Take frequent breaks to reset your posture. Using lumbar support against the natural curve of your lower back when sitting can help maintain good alignment. Prop your hands in front of you on pillows or blocks rather than gripping a phone at an odd, compressed angle. Keeping good posture takes pressure off your upper back muscles.
Stretch Your Arms Overhead
Simple upper body stretches like overhead reaches can make a difference. Interlace your fingers and turn your palms to face the ceiling. Inhale and reach your arms overhead, straightening them as much as comfortably possible. Feel your upper back and sides lengthen. Hold for 5 breaths, then release back down. Repeat several times, breathing into the stretch. You can also try this move reclined on your back with knees bent to really open up the front chest.
A decompressed upper back feels loose, relaxed, and can move freely without restriction or pain. Use these techniques regularly to keep your upper back muscles in their best condition. Be sure to see a doctor if you experience any sharp, shooting pains or numbness in your upper back or arms to rule out an underlying injury or condition. With some consistent attention and care, you can enjoy lasting relief from upper back tightness.