Exercises for Upper Back Muscle Spasms

Rear view of athletic female sprinter massaging her own neck at race track with trees in background
In the long run, the best way to prevent upper back spasms is with exercise. (Image: mheim3011/iStock/Getty Images)

Muscle spasms in the upper back can cause a range of symptoms from mild discomfort to excruciating pain. Sitting at a desk too long, too much time at the computer or driving for long hours are just a few of the things that cause muscles to tighten, weaken or both. That makes them vulnerable to spasm.

In the short term, you can relieve upper back muscle spasms with heat, ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin. In the long run, exercises and stretches that target key muscles and tendons can prevent future spasms.

1. Shoulder Blade Squeeze

The shoulder blade squeeze works the rhomboids that retract the shoulder blades and the trapezius muscles, which extend from the base of your skull to the bottom of your shoulder blades. It's an easy maneuver that feels good, is easy and can be at your work desk.

HOW TO DO IT: Whether sitting or standing, let your arms hang at your sides. Then simply pull back your shoulders as if you're trying to make them meet in the middle. Hold the pose for 5 seconds or more, release and repeat as many times as you like.

2. Airplanes

Airplane exercises work the muscles between the scapulae and those in the upper part of the back.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie facedown on the floor with your feet in a pigeon-toed position. Extend your arms at right angles with your palms facing down. Raise your head, shoulders, arms and upper back off the floor. Once you're airborne, flex your arms upward toward the ceiling.

Young Adult Athlete Doing Push Ups As Part Of Bodybuilding Training
Push-ups are an all-around exercise that strengthens the upper back. (Image: Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images)

3. Push-Ups

Push-ups are one of the best all-around exercises you can do. In addition to strengthening the bundles of muscles and tendons that run all up and down the spine, they get to the serratus anterior, an important muscle for shoulder blade stability.

HOW TO DO IT: Start in a solid plank position on your hands and feet. Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the ground. Push back up to the start.

4. Bent Arm Wall Stretch

Many painful upper back situations can be as much the fault of frontal torso muscles as they are the muscles in the back. A tight or shortened pectoralis minor, a small muscle that's located underneath the bigger chest muscles, can pull your shoulders forward and cause you to hunch and hurt. The Bent Arm Wall Stretch is great for elongated the pec minor.

HOW TO DO IT: Stand in a door frame with your legs separated in a partial lunge stance. Your left leg is to the rear, and your right leg is forward. Raise the left arm to shoulder height and place the palm and the inside of your arm on the door frame as if your arm is a goal post.

Push your chest forward gently until you feel a stretch. Move your arm up or down to feel the stretch in different parts of your chest. Repeat on the other side.

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