Upper Back Pain Rehab Routine

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Fit4Less. All opinions are 100% mine.

Upper Back Pain Rehab Routine

Today I have for you a great restorative routine for upper back and neck pain. You can use this routine as a warm-up before your upper body workouts, or separately to address upper back pain. We’ll be using a foam roller first to release the upper back muscles before transitioning into stretching and activation.

I filmed this short routine at Fit4Less gym. There is a lot of space at this gym and plenty of mats, balls, rollers and also dumbbells beside the mats’ area.

Working Out With Upper Back Pain

First, I want to quickly explain how to safely workout if you’re experiencing upper back pain… It’s important to know that the body is a connected kinetic chain. So if you’re starting to experience upper back pain, don’t ignore it. It’s possible for the pain to expand into the neck and shoulder area.

Starting your upper body workouts with a restorative warm-up routine becomes crucial to restore proper alignment and avoid injury or more pain.

1. Restore proper posture

Because of our sedentary lifestyle and spending the majority of our time sitting, muscles such as the pectoralis minor, pectoralis major, front deltoid, latissimus dorsi become chronically tight creating a rounded shoulder – forward head posture.

On the other hand, muscles such as the lower trapezius and the rhomboids lengthen and weaken. They fatigue quickly and become unable to hold one’s posture. This can have an effect on the lower back too through the pelvo-ocular reflex. Here’s what this means in simple terms…

The pelvo-ocular reflect is how the lower body and pelvic girdle responds to the head position.  As the head transitions forward, the pelvis will follow and anteriorly rotates to adjust to the body’s center of gravity. This is important to understand because it explains how a flawed posture such as the forward head, rounded shoulder posture can create dysfunction and pain in the lower body. 

2. Activate the postural muscles

It is not enough to just keep foam rolling and stretching the upper back muscles. We need to also activate and integrate the muscles that’ll maintain your posture and keep you in alignment. Major muscles to focus on are the middle and lower trapezius (stabilizes the scapula), and the rhomboids. 

The routine I’m about to share with you includes exercises to achieve both of these goals. I always recommend you start with the self-myofascial release with a foam roller, followed by the activation and integration exercises.

I’ve created a video to demonstrate each exercise, but make sure to scroll below the video to read the full exercise descriptions. It’s important to do them right and avoid compensation.

For this specific routine, you’ll need a foam roller, a stability ball and very light dumbbells (3-5 pounds).

Upper Back Pain Foam Roller Exercises

  • Latissimus Dorsi Release

The foam roller should be placed under the arm. Make sure your arm is stretched out with your thumb facing up. If that area feels tender and tight, hold for up to 60 seconds until it starts to feel more comfortable then roll back to little more to see if there are any other spots to release.

  • Thoracic Spine Release

The foam roller is placed behind your upper back. You can either place your arms behind your head or cross them in front of you to open up your back more. I personally like to have my hands behind my head to provide support for my head and to also open up my chest muscles. Lift your hips up and slowly roll back and forth without going lower than the middle back. Don’t roll your lower back.

Chest and Latissimus Dorsi Stretches

If you don’t have a stability ball, you can do this stretch using a chair or a bench. This is an amazing stretch to restore posture and release the chest muscles. We’re also lengthening the latissimus dorsi. Let your chest fall down and make sure you’re not shrugging and raising your shoulder. If the stretch feels a bit too much, you can rotate your hand so your palm is facing down.  You can also have both hands on the ball and stretch both sides at once. 

Back Activation Exercises

  • One-Arm Ball Cobra (Rhomboids/Mid-Lower Trapezius)

It’s extremely important to maintain proper form in this exercise. You can start without any weights and add weights once you get your form right. You want to start by having your feet, knees, hips and back all lined up. Keep your back neutral without any spinal extension.

Contract your glutes and keep your core engaged to stabilize your back. From here, you start by rotating your hand back while keeping your shoulders down. You want to feel as if you’re pressing your middle back muscles in a downward motion. It is common for people to start using their shoulders here. So make sure you keep your shoulders down all the way through each repetition.

It’s also important to use very light weights in this exercise. 3-5 lbs. dumbbells are perfect for this exercise. I even recommend you start with just your body weight. Believe me, it’s a very challenging exercise and our goal is to activate and re-educate these muscles so they can maintain proper alignment.

This is not an exercise to build back muscles. So keep those weights light.

  • Cobra – Cervical Retraction

This is an advanced version of the first exercise. I recommend you do this exercise without any weights using just your bodyweight. Add very light weights (3-5 lbs.) and stay in that range even if the exercise feels easier. You can add more repetitions or sets to increase the intensity of the exercise.

If you don’t have a stability ball, you can also start by using a more stable surface such as a bench.

I hope you give this routine a try. Visiting the Fit4less gym again was fun… If you live in Canada, you can try out the gym for free during one of their open houses. Here’s the link to learn more.