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Upper Back Exercises

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about upper back exercises?

Upper back exercises help heal and strengthen your back muscles and prevent another injury. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to see a physical therapist for more advanced exercises.

What do I need to know about exercise safety?

  • Do the exercises on a mat or firm surface (not on a bed). A firm surface will support your spine and prevent upper back pain.
  • Move slowly and smoothly. Avoid fast or jerky motions.
  • Breathe normally. Do not hold your breath.
  • Stop if you feel pain. It is normal to feel some discomfort at first, but you should not feel pain. Regular exercise will help decrease your discomfort over time.

How do I perform upper back exercises safely?

Ask your healthcare provider which of the following exercises are best for you and how often to do them.

  • Head rolls: Sit in a chair or stand. Bring your chin toward your chest and roll your head to the right. Your ear should be over your shoulder. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Roll your head back toward your chest and to the left. Your ear should be over your left shoulder. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Next, roll your head back slowly in a clockwise circle and repeat 3 times. Do 3 sets of head rolls.
    Head Rolls
  • Scapular squeeze: Sit or stand with your arms at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 3 seconds. Relax and repeat 3 times.
    Scapular Squeeze
  • Pectoralis stretch: Stand in a doorway. Lift your hands and place them on each side of the door frame or wall slightly higher than your head. Lean forward slowly until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat 3 times, or as directed.
    Pectoralis Stretch
  • Cat and camel exercise: Place your hands and knees on the floor. Arch your back upward toward the ceiling and lower your head. Round out your spine as much as you can. Hold for 5 seconds. Lift your head upward and push your chest downward toward the floor. Hold for 5 seconds. Do 3 sets or as directed.
    Cat and Camel Exercise
  • Bird dog: Place your hands and knees on the floor. Keep your wrists directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Pull your belly button in toward your spine. Do not flatten or arch your back. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise one arm straight out so that it is aligned with your head. Next, raise the leg opposite your arm. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Lower your arm and leg slowly and change sides. Do 5 sets.
    Bird Dog Exercise

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain that prevents you from moving.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your pain becomes worse.
  • You have new pain.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition, care, or exercise program.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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