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Top 5 Stretches to Relieve Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain is a common experience that affects everyone differently. It can feel anywhere from a dull ache to a burning pain that worsens with age. As we engage in our day to day activities, we inadvertently put a lot of stress on key body parts, especially the spine, which results in joint and muscle pain. 

The common causes of upper back pain include: 

  • Poor posture 
  • Improper way of doing lifting
  • Prolonged sitting or standing 
  • Sports-related injuries

Allowing time for stretching and strengthening activities is a proven way to combat a stiff upper back.

The following are some of the best stretches to relieve upper back pain that you can incorporate into your daily routine: 

Cat-Cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch is an excellent way to self-mobilize the upper back. It’s a two-stretches-in-one exercise that gently mobilizes each vertebra so that the bones down to the littlest ones will move the way they’re supposed to, for use in everyday activities. You can perform this stretch on an exercise mat or a carpeted floor. 

To perform, start on your hands and knees. Align the wrists underneath your shoulders and the knees underneath your hips. Think of the spine as a straight line connecting your shoulders and hips. Take the position of a neutral spine by visualizing the line to extend forward up to the crown of the head and the back of the tailbone. Keep your neck long by looking down and out.

Inhale and Arch for Cow Pose

Curl your toes under and tilt your pelvis back to make your tailbone stick up. Keep those abdominal muscles hugging your spine by drawing your navel in. Slowly look upwards toward the ceiling, taking care to avoid cranking your neck. 

Exhale and Round for Cat Pose

Release the top of your feet to the floor. Then, tip the pelvis forward while tucking your tailbone. (This action will cause your spine to move up as it naturally rounds.)

Afterward, draw your navel toward your spine as you drop your head and look to your navel. 

Repeat the cat-cow stretch on each inhale and exhale. Continue for 5 to 10 times, moving the entire spine. Go back to the neutral spine position after the last exhale.  

Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation

This exercise is meant to improve mobility in your thoracic spine, ensuring health and stability in both the shoulder girdle and lumbar spine. 

Begin by lying on your side, then cross one leg over the other. After, bend the upper leg to 90 degrees while extending both arms at your side, away from the body. 

Start the movement by looking back over the shoulder and rotating your top arm going toward your backside. Gently position that arm going toward the floor. Hold this position momentarily before going back to the starting position. 

Do your desired number of repetitions on one side up to 10 times and repeat all the above steps on the other side. All those reps count as one set. 

Child’s Pose with Rotation

This exercise targets multiple back muscles while targeting the hips and ankles at the same time.  

To begin, do a table pose on all fours. Place your hands beneath your shoulders and knees right below the hips. Then, slowly lower your hips forward in the direction of the ground with arms outstretched in front. Stretch those arms in a way that your palms also rest on the floor. Remain in this position for a few seconds as you feel your upper back stretched. 

Bring both hands to one side in front of you for an added stretch. This will lengthen the muscles and lats of your body on the opposite side. Repeat this step by reaching to the other side once you feel a good stretch. Hold each pose for 30 seconds, 

Note that you can try this exercise while seated on a folded blanket or pillow if you feel pain in your knees or hips. Alternatively, you can try performing this stretch using a foam roller under your palms for added comfort.

Thoracic Extension over Foam Roller/Chair

Through this exercise, you can shift your upper back’s curve by moving your body in the opposite direction. To begin, find a foam roller or use the back of a chair to perform this relieving stretch.  

If you’re using a foam roller, place the foam roller in a perpendicular position to your torso. Sit in front of the foam roller with your hands behind your head. Interlock your fingers and support the weight of your head without pulling it. 

Gently lean backward so that your upper back is reaching over the foam roller. Then, extend your shoulders towards the floor while using the foam roller as upper back support. Proceed by lifting the hips to roll the upper back muscles up and down. You can also move the foam roller up by an inch after each stretch. Lean backward over the roller until a relieving stretch is felt. 

Repeat these steps a few times, taking care not to force your body into discomfort. Keep in mind that this stretch can get pretty intense, so it’s advisable to perform with small movements while taking care not to spend more than a couple of minutes in one position.

Doorway Pectoral Stretch

Upper back pain is often due to improper posture, which is made worse by tight chest muscles. The doorway stretch is a simple yet effective way to loosen up those chest muscles and encourage the body to observe a healthy posture. 

Using the walls of a standard doorway, stretch out your pectoral muscles by bringing each forearm up against one side. Then, stretch out the chest by slowly leaning forward through the door opening while keeping the arms on one side. Hold this position for 30 seconds. 

Take care not to lean too much into the frame to keep yourself from incurring any injuries. Make sure to stop at once when you feel the stretch in your chest and shoulders. 

Key TakeAway

Minor back pain can be treated at home with regular stretching and strengthening techniques.

However, if the pain persists and gets worse with home treatment, the accompanying symptoms is likely tied to an underlying condition.

In this case, the best course of action is to consult with a doctor or healthcare provider.

For more daily routines and exercises, visit our website.

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PNF Stretching for Optimum ROM

One of the most neglected parts of training for any sport is stretching. Even for non-athletes, stretching is equally important in achieving ultimate physical health. 

Most people don’t even realize that they should be stretching daily to keep the muscles healthy, strong, and flexible. 

Simple stretching routines are effective in preventing muscle tightening that leads to a higher risk of incurring injuries. However, for those looking for a more extensive stretching routine, PNF stretching provides an excellent way to stretch more effectively than ever before.

PNF Stretching Defined

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF stretching is a next-level form of flexibility exercises. Developed in the 1940s by Dr. Hernan Kabat to treat neuromuscular conditions (such as polio and multiple sclerosis), it has since become popular among physical therapists and fitness professionals.  

The technique was initially incorporated as part of neuromuscular rehabilitation programs, designed to relax muscles and increase their tone or activity. Thus, it has become essential in athletics as a method of increasing the flexibility of athletes. 

PNF techniques are usually performed with a partner and involve active and passive (isometric and concentric) muscle actions.    

At present, PNF stretching has already spread in mainstream gyms and has been widely regarded as the most effective stretching technique for increasing range of motion. 

PNF Methods

Three muscle actions enable the passive stretch during PNF exercises. Both isometric and concentric muscle actions are done before a passive stretch to achieve self-generated or autogenic inhibition.  

There are several PNF stretching techniques, yet all of them rely on stretching muscles to their limits. These exercises trigger a protective reflex that calms the muscles and is proven effective in preventing injuries. 

The PNF techniques are as follows:

Hold-Relax

This PNF technique begins with a passive pre-stretch and is held at a point of mild discomfort for about 10 seconds. The exercise partner then applies a hip flexion force while asking the athlete to stay put and resist any movement so that isometric muscle action takes place. The athlete then relaxes, and a passive stretch is held for another 30 seconds. This PNF technique’s final phase should be of greater magnitude due to the hamstrings’ activation and other autogenic inhibition forms. 

Contract-Relax

The contract-relax PNF technique, also known as isotonic stretching, is almost identical to hold-relax, except that the muscle is contracted while moving. It starts with a passive pre-stretch as well (usually of the hamstrings). 

Like the Hold-Relax method, this stretch is also held at a point of mild discomfort for ten seconds. Afterward, the athlete extends the hip against resistance coming from the exercise partner. This enables a concentric muscle action through the full range of motion (ROM) to take place. 

After briefly relaxing, the athlete receives a passive hip flexion stretch and is held for 30 seconds. Finally, autogenic inhibition facilitates an increase in the athlete’s full ROM.

Hold-Relax-Contract

The third technique in PNF stretching is the hold-relax-contract method. It resembles the hold-relax approach in the first two phases then deviates upon reaching the third. Instead of relaxing into a passive stretch, the athlete actively pushes into it. A concentric action is used together with the passive stretch to provide an added force. 

After the isometric hold, the athlete flexes the hip and moves further into the new ROM as a result.  

For instance, in a hamstring stretch, the athlete engages the muscles to further raise the leg while the trainer pushes in the same direction.

The hold-relax-contract is regarded as the most effective PNF stretching technique among the three. It provides the benefits of both reciprocal and autogenic inhibition.

PNF Stretching Benefits

PNF stretching is proven to enhance both active and passive ranges of motion. Everybody can utilize PNF techniques to supplement their daily, static, stretching routines. Athletes get to enjoy improved performance, as well as speedy gains in their range of motion. PNF stretching not only helps in increasing their flexibility but improves their muscular strength as well.

Compared to traditional and static stretching techniques, PNF is more dependable when it comes to improving ROM. Furthermore, PNF stretching can be relied upon to: 

  • Target specific muscle groups 
  • Prevent knots 
  • Realign muscle fibers and connective tissue after microscopic damage caused by high-intensity workouts

PNR Stretching as Part of a Daily Routine

While PNF stretches are ideally performed with a partner, they can also be self-administered. 

To perform an auto-PNF hamstring stretch, individuals simply have to place their foot on a chair or bench to do a static stretch, followed by an isometric contraction and another static stretch. 

Practitioners agree that this is an equally effective manner to reap the rewards of PNF stretching.

When (or When Not) to Use PNF Stretching

Before incorporating PNF methods into their training, aspiring PNF stretching practitioners should do the following:

Think if PNF Stretching is Really Needed

This goes to inexperienced athletes whose main aim is to improve their stretching ability. In which case, static stretching is enough for the time being. Not only are the methods of static stretching simpler to do, but the chances of performing them incorrectly are also lower. Thus, there’s minimal risk of getting injured while the chances of achieving desired goals are just as high.

Always Ensure that the Correct Movement is Followed Every Time

The fundamental mistake that some practitioners make is think that PNF is just simple stretching. However, the processes involved can get more technical, heightening the risk of injury, especially if movements are not done correctly.

To prevent this from happening, seeking expert advice or professional help from personal trainers are recommended.

PNF Stretches Should Only Be Performed on Certain Muscle Groups

PNF stretching methods should only be applied to long kinetic muscle chains, such as the hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, back, etc.
They aren’t recommended on specific muscle groups because of the adverse effects they can cause. For instance, the rotator cuff can become too loose in the shoulders, causing the joint to come out of its socket.  

Key Takeaways

PNF is an advanced form of stretching exercise that is recommended to achieve optimum ROM. It allows practitioners to target specific muscle groups that they aim to strengthen. 

The success of PNF methods depends on key factors, such as: 

  • The PNF technique being employed
  • How advanced the athlete is and their specific type of goal
  • The muscle group being targeted
  • When the stretching session is performed in relation to exercise 

In general, PNF stretches are highly-effective given that all the steps are performed correctly, with recommendations from an expert or professional trainer.

For more stretching exercises and other routines for athletes and non-athletes alike, visit our website.