Dissolve Years of Tension in Your Upper Back With This Physical Therapist-Approved Stretch

Photo: Getty Images/Mariakray
When it comes to postural issues, your shoulders carry a lot of weight—they can be rounded, your weight distribution in the shoulders can be off-center, or they can simply be tight, which can throw off the rest of your body's alignment. But, according to a physical therapist, strengthening and foam rolling the upper back can help melt away a lot of those shoulder issues.

"The upper spine is likely to cause the most problems in the shoulder area," says Corinne Croce, physical therapist and co-founder of Bodyevolved, who notes it's tricky to mobilize your shoulders themselves without professional guidance. "Mobilizing around the shoulder will not only keep other areas of the body mobile, but will also help prevent shoulder injuries."

Simply lying down on a foam roller that's aligned with your spine can decompress your back, but it's also useful to roll in certain spots along the spine (obviously check with your doc first to make sure this kind of a routine is a good idea for you). Croce recommends doing a couple of rolling exercises along the upper back specifically, which will help with rounded or tight shoulders, but note that you should avoid foam rolling the lower back since it can mess with your mobility. Keep scrolling for Croce's foam rolling and strength training combo for a more fluid, limber upper back.

Foam rolling and strengthening your upper back

1. Position the foam roller horizontally and sit in front of it. Clasp your hands behind your head to support your head and neck. Lay back with the foam roller positioned about belly button-height on your back. Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips and roll gently up and down, side to side, from belly button height to upper shoulders and throughout the upper back.

2. After foam rolling the tissue, keep the foam roller belly button-height on your back with your glutes on the ground. Keep your hands grasped behind your head and draw your elbows as close together as possible—don't yank on your neck, just lightly hold your head. Take a deep breath, drive your elbows back, arching your back over the foam roller while breathing out. Think about the elbows moving up and away from your knees to really arch your spine over the roller. Return to seated upright position and repeat three to four times. Move the foam roller up to a higher level and repeat. Do the same thing gradually working your way up the back to the top of the shoulder blades. Never perform this below belly button height.

3. With a resistance band or TRX straps, perform rows. These strengthen your upper body, particularly your latisimmus dorsi, which is the largest muscle in the back that connects to your shoulder blades. Croce recommends doing two sets of 10 reps.

Oh, and here's the perfect stretching and foam rolling combo to do for more liquid legs. And this is how to use a foam roller for a full-body massage. 

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