Sooner or later, sitting for several hours a day in front of your computer can make your upper back and shoulders round forward, which can stress those areas and lead to pain. To combat poor posture, take several breaks throughout your work day. Get up from your chair and move your body to improve blood flow and tissue elasticity, making you feel more limber and able to think more clearly. Warm up by turning your torso to the left and then the right, and by doing neck rolls and arms swings before you exercise.
Extend Your Spine
Exercises that extend your upper spine can reduce the excessive flexion caused by hunching. Start with floor exercises because they place the least amount of stress on your upper back. Because you don't have to worry about balance, you can focus more on increasing your range of motion. Common exercises that work on upper-spine extension include Downward Dog, Cow pose, and standing doorway chest stretch. You can choose to either hold a position for a duration of five to six deep breaths, or you can move rhythmically by flexing and extending your spine to loosen the muscles and tissues. For example, in Cow pose, start with a neutral spine that maintains its natural curvature. Extend your upper spine to do the pose, and hold that position for three to five seconds. Then return your body to the starting position, and repeat the movement.
Your upper spine is also responsible for the rotation of your shoulder girdle. Turning exercises can alleviate stiffness that can cause pain. Like the spine-extension exercises, start on the floor before progressing to a standing position. Floor exercises include the lying torso rotation and the quadruped trunk twist, which gradually turns your upper spine repetitively. When you turn in a standing position with your feet about shoulder-distance apart, keep your arms relaxed and turn by initiating the movement from your waist. Your upper body will turn naturally as your arms swing across your body. Develop a steady breathing pattern as you move so that your breath synchronizes with your movements. For example, exhale when you turn to your left; inhale when you turn to your right.
Massaging your back with a foam roller, a foot-long cylinder made of dense styrofoam, can alleviate the muscle stiffness that often leads to upper-back pain. Lie on the floor with the foam roller under your upper back in a perpendicular position to your body. Fold your arms over your chest. Carefully roll up and down your spine from your neck to just below your shoulder blades. Breathe slowly and deeply as you roll. Do not use the foam roller if you have unhealed wounds, fractured bones or arthritis in your spine.
There are no cookie-cutter exercise programs to address everyone's upper-back pain and poor posture. Sources of pain could stem from arthritis, scoliosis, degenerative discs or vertebral fractures, which require different strategies. Some exercises may benefit some people while causing more pain in others. Consult your physician or chiropractor before you begin to exercise or if your upper-back pain persists.
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Corrective Exercise for Prolonged Static-Posture Damage
- Yoga Journal: Cow Pose
- Spine Health: Thoracic Spine Anatomy and Upper Back Pain
- UWHealth.org: Quadruped Trunk Rotation
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation: Flexibility and Stretching
- Yoga Journal: Downward Facing-Dog
- Fun With Qigong: Turning the Waist
- Columbia University Medical Center: Upper Back Pain Rehabilitation Exercises
- Pain-Free Program; Anthony Carey
- Youtube: Qigong Exercise Twist Spine
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.