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Back Pain Center

Exercises for Upper Back Muscle Spasms

author image Sarka-Jonae Miller
Sarka-Jonae Miller has been a freelance writer and editor since 2003. She was a personal trainer for four years with certifications from AFAA and NASM. Miller also worked at 24 Hour Fitness, LA Fitness and as a mobile trainer. Her career in the fitness industry begin in 2000 as a martial arts, yoga and group exercise instructor. She graduated cum laude from Syracuse University.
Exercises for Upper Back Muscle Spasms
Simple stretching exercises such as the head tilt can lower upper back pain. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Incorrect posture, carrying heavy backpacks, prolonged sitting in one position and even hard coughing contribute to muscle spasms in the upper back. When the upper back and neck muscles are tight, any small thing, such as picking up an object, twisting or sneezing might cause a spasm. A direct injury to the upper back such as during sports, may cause muscle spasms, too. Stretches relieve this tension and restore flexibility, but they take time. Strengthening exercises that isolate the upper back also reduce spasms. Take deep breaths during these exercises and keep your movements smooth.

Upper Back Flexion/Extension Stretch

The upper back stretch targets the thoracic spine of the upper back through flexion and extension. You might also feel your chest stretching as you put your hands behind your head. To perform this stretch, sit on the edge of a chair with your feet on the floor. Bend your elbows and put your palms on the back of your head. Then, bend forward slowly and round your upper back until your feel a stretch. This is flexion. Next, arch and lean backwards in the opposite direction, lifting your chest as until you feel a stretch. This is extension.

Upper Back Butterfly Stretch

The upper back butterfly stretch begins in a similar position as the upper back flexion/extension stretch. This exercise stretches the upper back muscles that pull the shoulder blades together. To perform this exercise, sit on the edge of the chair with your hands on top of your shoulders. Bend your elbows and raise your arms so that your biceps are parallel to the floor. Then, rotate your shoulders forward to touch your elbows together in front of you. This pulls your shoulder blades away from each other.

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

The shoulder blade squeeze is a simple strengthening exercise for the muscles of the upper back that retract the shoulders and stabilize the shoulder blades. You can do this exercise anywhere, including seated at your desk. To perform the shoulder blade squeeze, sit with your arms hanging at your sides. Then, pull your shoulders back and try to make your shoulder blades touch. Hold for five seconds. You can also do this standing in line or other times that you have room to relax your arms at your sides.


The cheer stretches your back and shoulders by raising your arms overhead. The front of your shoulders activate to raise your arms, just like the shoulder flexion strengthening exercise. To perform the cheer, sit in a chair with your arms hanging at your sides. Then, swing your arms forward and toward the ceiling. Next, slowly lower your arms back to your sides.

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