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How to Eliminate Tightness and Pain in Your Upper Back

One in six Australians experience back pain each year. Back pain is the result of the way the bones, discs, muscles, tendons and ligaments interact. The most basic lesson I’ve learned over all my years in health and fitness is that the body LOVES to move. And when it comes to the back, it’s become obvious to me that the back loves to rotate.

Rotation is one of the seven fundamental human movements, along with squatting, lunging, hinging, pushing, pulling and bracing. It’s a move that we don’t “strengthen”, like the others, but that we must “practice”.

"The main reason most people experience tightness and pain in their upper back is due to how they spend most of their day — in a seated and static position."

The best solution for tightness and pain in your upper back is to get a new job. No, seriously. The main reason most people experience tightness and pain in their upper back is due to how they spend most of their day — in a seated and static position. And this is usually because their job requires that of them. Even a standup desk isn’t that much better because it’s still a static position.

I understand most people don’t want to change their career just to eliminate their back pain. So here’s a few other solutions to fix the problem without having to quit your job.

How to Eliminate Tightness and Pain in Your Upper Back

  • Pulsate
    As I’ve said, the main cause of upper back pain is from lack of movement. The bones and discs get pushed into a poor position and then the muscles tighten up, squeezing nerves and blood vessels. Move in a way that allows the muscles of the upper back to contract and relax.
  • Lengthen
    In addition to generating movement, and therefore blood flow, hold the muscles of your upper back in a lengthened position for an extended amount of time. In other words, stretch! This allows the ever-shortening muscles to remain supple.
  • Hang 
    Seriously one of the best things you can do for your back, in addition to rotating, is to hang. You might be limited by grip-strength to begin with but please persist. It’s so worth it. Start by hanging vertically for just a couple of seconds and build up until you can hang for thirty seconds. This allows your spine to lengthen, create space between the vertebrae, and strengthen.
  • Reverse it
    If you’re spending much of your time in a hunched position, allow your back to spend some time in the opposite position. Lay over a roller on your back. Just lay there for as long as you can and relax. Allow the muscles to enjoy some time in the opposite position.
  • Heat it up
    Part of the reason you experience pain is due to a lack of blood flow. The muscles are tightening up, which squeezes on the blood vessels, making it harder for blood, and hence oxygen, to flow through. Applying heat creams or heat packs can generate blood flow. Just remember that this is only an immediate solution for temporary relief. It is not going to eliminate the problem. You must generate blood flow on a more regular and natural basis.
  • Exercise
    Do some regular cardiovascular exercise every day. This is a natural way to generate blood flow through the entire body, deliver more oxygen to all parts of the body and exercise allows your muscles to expand and contract.
  • Strengthen 
    Although strengthening shortens the muscles, it adds muscle mass and gives the muscles strength to resist fatigue. This means that even though you shouldn’t sit for long periods of time in a static position, you are better capable of sitting with good posture, so at least you’re not in a hunched position for any length of time. You’ll also be more inclined to get up and move more regularly.

Tightness in your upper back usually arises when you sit for extended periods of time in a static and hunched position. Your muscles tighten up, restricting blood vessels and nerves. This leads to pain in the muscles. Regular movement, which encourages blood flow and for the nerves to glide through the muscles easily, eliminates pain and tightness. In addition, strengthening the muscles helps to resist fatigue that leads to this pain and tightness.

Do you experience pain and tightness in your upper back? If so, what strategies have you found help to ease it?

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