A knot in the upper back occurs when muscles such as the trapezius, teres major, erector spinae or latissimus dorsi go into a tight spasm, constricting forcefully and impinging on a nerve. From a dull ache between the shoulder blades to a searing headache that seems to originate at the base of the skull, upper back knots can cause symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to excruciating pain. Heat, ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help ease the pain. But certain exercises and stretches can help to smooth out the spasm as well as to prevent such episodes in the future.
Kneeling Thoracic Rotation
This maneuver enhances the mobility of the shoulder and mid-back and helps stabilize the shoulder blades and rib cage.
To Perform: Get on all fours (tabletop position) and put your left hand behind your head. Rotate your torso inward and try to touch your left elbow to the inside of your right elbow. Now, pushing your weight into your right hand, unwind your torso upward until your left elbow is pointing to the ceiling. Repeat on the other side and alternate for five to 10 repetitions.
Downward Facing Dog, or "Down Dog," is one of the first poses taught in yoga, and for good reason: It's easy, it feels good and it's great for working out kinks all along the spine and into the upper back.
To perform: Lie supine with your hands at shoulder-width and your feet at hip-width, pretty much the same as if you were going to do a push-up. Push away from the floor until your arms are straight, your hips are in the air and your body is in the formation of an upside-down V. Press through the floor, shifting your weight onto your heels with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your back, legs and arms straight while rotating your shoulder blades inward. Hold for up to a minute and slowly release.
Bent Arm Wall Stretch
Sometimes over-tight chest muscles — particularly the pectoralis minor, located under the pec major — can be a partial cause of upper-back knots because they pull the shoulders and the rest of the upper-back muscles forward. The Bent Arm Wall Stretch helps liberate your upper back by stretching out the pec minor. It also opens the shoulder blade muscles.
To perform: Stand in a doorway with your right leg behind you and your left leg forward, about halfway into a lunge. Lift your right arm to shoulder height with your palm and upper arm on the door frame in an L position. Bring your chest forward. You should feel a stretch at the side of your chest as in your shoulder blades. Adjust your arm's position along the door frame to vary the stretch. Repeat on the other side.