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Self Treatment Techniques for the Chest and Upper back

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:20 AM

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for upper back & chest pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.

Upper Back Stiffness and Pain

If you have a pain in the middle of your back or under your shoulder blade, it often comes from tightness in the front of the chest or shoulders pulling you forward and stressing out the back muscles. Laying with a rolled up towel or foam roller along your spine (see Right; a great anti-desk posture stretch!) with your hands overhead for 5-10 minutes stretches out the tight muscles and gets rid of the pain. The vertebrae can also get stuck flexed forward, and rolling on a foam roller perpendicular to your spine can help straighten yo out (also try little half-inch "sit-ups" motions to gently flex the vertebrae).


Sometimes you can have an actual spasm in the mid back. Lie on the floor and place a tennis ball on the sore point and move your arm back and forth across your body and up and down at your side (see Left) for 2-3 minutes until the pain eases.



Releasing the Pecs

In addition to stretching, to get tight pec muscles to relax and stop pulling the shoulders forward and straining the upper back, push into the sorest spot and repeatedly stretch your arm backwards or make large backward circles (like doing the back stroke). Also try not to sleep on your side or slouch at your desk, since your body will tighten up the fascia to support the position you spend most of your time in!





Strengthening the Upper Back


Once you stretch out the strong front muscles, you have a better chance to strengthen the weaker upper back muscles (rhomboids). Use a rowing machine at the gym or a rubber Theraband at home to do "rows". The rows are most effective if you can first isolate the lower rhomboids and pinch the bottom of your shoulder blades together before pulling your arms back. This also works without weights or bands by just contracting and squeezing the muscles for 5 seconds, relaxing, and repeating 10 times.


"Pull-downs" at a gym or pulling down a Theraband looped over a door are also good exercises for the back, strengthening the latisimus dorsi ("lats").



Releasing the Serratus Anterior


Sometimes when your shoulder or upper back has been bothering you for a while, the muscle that wraps around and stabilizes your chest can become chronically contracted and cause pain or interfere with proper motion even after the pecs and shoulder rotators are restored to their proper functioning. To release tight spots in this muscle, use your thumb and first 2 fingers to push into sore spots along the outside of your ribs. Breathe deeply or rock from side to side to stretch & release this muscle.


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