Doing the ‘Thread the Needle’ Stretch Every Morning Will Mobilize Your Mid-Back and Release Shoulder Tension

In the category of things that could make you feel like you’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed, tight, sore shoulders and an achey back are certainly near the top. There are a variety of things that could be contributing to your muscle tension: the position you sleep in, your pillow, a 40-pound dog that somehow takes up your entire bed and forces you to contort into impossible positions while you sleep, etc etc etc. "Many folks may find that they wake up in the morning feeling as though their back is very stiff," Rahul Shah, MD, an orthopedic neck and spine surgeon, previously told Well+Good. "For these folks, it is a good idea to try to improve their flexibility, and this can sometimes be accomplished by doing stretches, yoga, and Pilates." If this sounds like you, then the “thread the needle” stretch may be able to help.

Experts In This Article

"If we're talking about finding less compression in our spine and more ability for our mid-back to both lengthen and support the upper spine and lower spine, we need to pay attention to mobilizing and strengthening," says Brian Spencer from East River Pilates in New York City. Using those two concepts together while they stretch sends a signal from your brain to your muscles that it’s okay to relax because they’re supported enough to do so safely.

With the thread the needle stretch (which Spencer demos in the video below), you’re increasing the range of motion of the mid-back, or specifically your thoracic spine, the portion of your spine that your ribs connect to—plus, it's a beginner-friendly mobility exercise, so you can do it even if you're pretty stiff.

Here's how to do the thread the needle stretch

1. Start on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
2. Inhale as you lift your right arm up to the ceiling, while rotating your chest toward the right.
3. As you exhale, lower you arm back down as you twist your torso to the left, allowing the back of your straight right arm to come rest on the ground behind your left wrist and lowering your right ear down the floor so your gaze is toward the left.
4. Take one breath here, then repeat. Perform a few reps on the right side, then do the same thing on the left.

Watch the video to get more movements that can help mobilize and strengthen your back and shoulders:

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