Muscle spasms in the upper back are somewhat common but painful. They are your body's natural response to overexerting, fatiguing or not warming up those muscles before a sweat session, according to the North American Spine Society.
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Rather than working the upper back extra-hard during your next workout, it's best to prevent overuse from occurring by doing a warm-up that includes your upper back. If you find your muscles spasming, seek relief by stretching out that part of your body.
Warm-Ups for the Upper Back
Your upper spine is supposed to be able to rotate more than other parts of your body, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), so it's important to do warm-up exercises that add mobility to this area. By doing a proper warm-up, you're less likely to experience stiff muscles, muscle pain or muscle spasms after a hard workout.
Start off your warm-up with a side lunge with opposite hand reach, as suggested by ACE. This exercise gets the blood flowing not only in your upper back, but also your lower back, hamstrings, inner thighs and calves.
- Stand in a wide stance.
- Reach your left hand to your right foot, feeling the stretch across your back and hamstring and grip the right foot. If you can't reach your foot, hold your ankle or calf.
- Lower slowly into a right-side lunge, feeling a stretch in your inner thigh. Keep the heel firmly on the ground.
- Return your hand and legs to the starting position and then repeat on the other side for a total of six to 10 reps.
Another exercise that may help with upper back muscle pain by warming up your muscles prior to a workout is a bird dog, also recommended by ACE. This warm-up exercise requires stabilizing the spine while warming up your shoulders, upper back, lower back and glutes.
- Get in a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
- Lift your left arm up and stretch it forward. At the same time, extend your right leg until it's straight out behind you.
- Return both your arm and leg to the starting tabletop position. Repeat with the right arm and left leg for a total of 10 to 12 reps.
ACE also recommends foam rolling your middle and upper back during a warm-up. This reduces tension and increases blood flow to the muscles between your shoulder blades and improves upper back extension.
Read more: 10 Stretches to Get Rid of a Stiff Back
Stretches for Upper Back Spasms
Stretches for upper back spasms can help reduce the pain in your stiff muscles. The Mayo Clinic suggests a cat stretch:
- Get on your hands and knees into a tabletop position.
- Gently arch your back by pulling your abdomen up and rounding your spine.
- Slowly release the arch and reverse the stretch, letting your back move into a concave position with your abdomen closer to the floor.
- Return to the starting position and repeat for a total of three to five times. Do this twice a day.
Additional easy stretches can relieve the ache of muscle spasms in the upper back. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln recommends simple neck flexion and extensions.
- Pull your chin toward your chest for a neck flexion
- Release it back and look up toward the ceiling for an extension.
Next, target your upper-back muscles with an easy-to-do rhomboid stretch, which can be done while standing or sitting:
- Extend your arms out in front of your body and hold your hands together.
- Round your shoulders and push forward with your hands until you feel an upper-back stretch.