Stretches for a Stiff Upper Back

Get the kinks out of your upper back with gentle stretches.

Get the kinks out of your upper back with gentle stretches.

Whether you're into gardening or skiing, cooking or ballet, the feeling of stiffness in your upper back is more than a nuisance. Those tight muscles prevent you from moving freely and easily, which can limit your ability to function and kill your coordination. Take time out from your hectic routine to work out the kinks. For best results, stretch throughout the day, as frequently as every 15 minutes. If you're consistent, your upper back will start to feel more supple over time. When that happens, keep up with your stretching to maintain what you've gained.

Sit or stand with a straight back and your head aligned over your spine. Relax your arms at your sides or interlace your fingers behind your head. Without tensing your neck or jaw, gently squeeze your shoulder blades together as much as you comfortably can. Hold for a count of five and then release the stretch. Repeat 10 times.

Sit or stand with your fingers interlocked behind your head. Gently arch the shoulders and upper back backward, raising your chin toward the ceiling. When you feel a mild stretch, hold for a count of five. Slowly return to center and then roll your shoulders forward, drawing your elbows together and toward your belly button. Hold the forward stretch for a count of five and then return to center. Repeat the sequence 10 times.

Keep your hands clasped behind your head, elbows open to the side. Slowly bend your chest and upper back to the right, drawing your right elbow toward your right hip. Relax and hold for a count of two, and then return to center. Bend to the left and hold for two counts; return to the center. Repeat the side-to-side motion 10 times, moving slowly and rhythmically.

Sit or stand with your right arm extended in front of you. Bending the arm, take hold of the elbow with your left hand and gently pull it across your chest, toward your left shoulder. Keep your chest facing front. When you feel a stretch along your right shoulder blade, hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Relax the arm briefly and then repeat the stretch for a total of two to four times. Switch to your left side.

Stand with your hands clasped behind your back, near your buttocks. Slowly extend your elbows and raise your arms behind you. Hold the stretch for a count of five and then relax your arms briefly. Repeat the stretch 10 times.

Stand facing a wall with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on the wall at chest height and walk backward until your hips are directly over your ankles. Bend your knees slightly and slowly lower your upper body through your arms. Adjust the height of your hands until you feel a comfortable stretch along your upper back. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then bend your knees more deeply as you roll up through your spine. Repeat for a total of two to four times.

Items you will need

  • Firm, stable chair


  • Breathe normally to achieve a deeper, more effective stretch.


  • Stretching should be pleasant, not painful. If an exercise causes pain, stop immediately.
  • Never bounce or force a stretch. Pushing a stretch too far can trigger the stretch reflex, which causes a tightening of the muscles you're attempting to lengthen.

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About the Author

Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.

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