If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, driving or working at a computer, it's likely that your upper back muscles -- thoracic paraspinal muscles -- are tight. The paraspinal muscles run along the sides of your spine and their job is to help keep you in an upright position. Perform stretching exercises throughout the day to decrease tightness in these muscles.
Stretch your right and left thoracic paraspinals with the chair stretch.
Sit up straight in your chair. Begin with your hands resting on your thighs.
Lift one arm straight up overhead and reach your hand toward the ceiling until you feel a stretch in your upper back.
Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat three times on each side.
The seated rotation exercise stretches the thoracic paraspinals by twisting the upper body. Sit in a chair without arms or lower your armrests if you're able to move them out of the way.
Sit up straight in a chair. Cross your arms so that your forearms are resting on top of each other. Raise your arms up to shoulder-height.
Slowly rotate your upper body to the right and look over your right shoulder. Stop when you feel a strong but comfortable stretch in your upper back.
Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and repeat three times. Perform this stretch on the opposite side.
Standing Side Stretch
Standing stretches are more intense than seated stretches. Move slowly into the standing side stretch to avoid pain.
Stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. Stretch your right side by placing your left hand on your left hip. Reach overhead with your right arm.
Slowly lean your upper body to the left. Don't bend forward or backward -- lean directly to the side.
Stop when you feel a strong stretch along the right side of your upper back. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat three times, then switch sides.
The forward reach stretch can be performed from a sitting or standing position. Be careful not to allow your lower back to round forward -- stand or sit up straight throughout this stretch.
Hold your arms out straight in front of you and interlock your fingers.
Push forward with your hands until you feel a stretch in your upper back. Your shoulders will round forward during this movement.
Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat three times.
Foam Roller Stretches
Foam rollers use body weight to massage and stretch tight muscles.
Sit on the floor and place the foam roller sideways, behind your back.
Bend your knees and lean back onto the roller. Begin the stretch with the roller under your shoulder blades. Put your hands behind your head to support your neck.
Press down through your heels and lift your buttocks off the ground. Using your legs, slowly roll up and down the roller, keeping it between the top and bottom of your ribcage. Roll for 30 to 60 seconds at a time.
Tennis Ball Massage
Massaging tight muscles increases blood flow to the area and helps the muscles relax. Perform tennis ball massage with other thoracic paraspinal stretches or by itself.
Stand with your back against a wall. Place the tennis ball behind one shoulder and lean back to hold it in place.
Slowly step sideways until the ball is positioned on your thoracic paraspinals on one side of your spine.
Carefully squat down and stand back up to roll the ball along the target muscle. Perform this for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side. Do not roll the ball across your spine -- this could cause pain.
- Amercian Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Spine Conditioning Program
- The Ipswich Hospital: Thoracic Spine Stretches Progressed
- Family Chiropractic Centre Charlestown: Thoracic Spine Stretches
- Kaiser Permanente: Self Mobilization Exercises for the Upper Body
- Journal of Physical Therapy Science: Effect of Thoracic Stretching, Thoracic Extension Exercise and Exercises for Cervical and Scapular Posture on Thoracic Kyphosis Angle and Upper Thoracic Pain