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Back Pain Center

Exercises for Pinched Nerves in the Upper Back

author image Jody Braverman
Jody Braverman is a health and fitness professional and writer in Seattle. She has been a personal trainer and yoga instructor for almost a decade and is passionate about movement and helping people lead active, healthy lives.

Pinched nerves are caused by excessive pressure being placed on a nerve by surrounding tissues. Pinched nerves can happen anywhere in the body, including the upper back, and they can cause pain, weakness and loss of mobility. The best thing for a pinched nerve is rest and time to heal, but some gentle stretching exercises can also be helpful to create space in the muscles surrounding the nerve and to keep the upper back loose. It is important to check with your doctor before trying to treat a pinched nerve at home as you can exacerbate the situation.

Shoulder Circles

Shoulder circles are a good way to begin your stretching routine for the upper back because they generate warmth through the upper body and help protect from further injury. To perform this exercise stand tall with your arms extended out to the side parallel with the ground. Keep the arms straight and strong throughout the exercise.

Begin to move your arms in small, controlled circles, moving from the shoulder socket. Slowly increase your range of motion until your circles become as large as possible and you feel a stretch in your upper back and chest as you circle your arms. Now, reverse the direction of your arms and begin to decrease the size of the circles until your circles are the same size as when you started.

Spinal Twist

Spinal twists help relieve pressure in the spinal column and also help to realign the vertebrae. A pinched nerve can cause tightness in the upper back, as well as in the shoulder and neck. Performing a gentle spinal twist can help relieve some of that pain and pressure, but it is important not to go too far.

To perform a spinal twist, sit on the floor in a cross-legged position. Take your right hand across and place it on your left knee. Applying gentle pressure to the knee, begin to use the tension between your right hand and your left knee to rotate the torso to the left. Only turn your head as far as your torso turns; do not overstretch the neck at this point in the exercise. Once you have rotated the torso as far as it can go, you can begin to turn the neck a little farther to the left, maybe looking behind you. But be careful to only turn the neck as far as it can go without causing pain. Hold here for five seconds and release. Repeat on the other side.

Back Flexion Stretch

Flexion of the back causes the shoulder blades to draw apart and the upper back to become broad, stretching the upper back muscles and creating space. With a pinched nerve, it is important not to take this stretch too far; only go as far as you can without causing pain.

To perform this stretch, lie on your back on the floor and draw your knees in toward your chest. Wrap your arms around your shins, as if you are giving yourself a hug, and take hold of opposite forearms or elbows. You can stay here if this is enough of a stretch for you, or you can take it a little further by squeezing your legs into your chest. Hold for five seconds and release.

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