Quick, Feel-Good Upper Back and Chest Stretch
The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Quick, Feel-Good Upper Back and Chest Stretch

Today 37 new students were waiting when I came in to teach yoga. I was their New Year's Resolution. Most were sitting bent over forward, rounding their back to stretch. When I walked through the gym to get to the teaching room, I walked past a gym full of New Year's Resolutions, all bent over forward straining to stretch, bent over their stair machine and bent over their treadmill. They were lying on the floor face-up rounding forward and they were standing bent over, face-down. Many were doing The Stretch You Need The Least. Everyone looked like the same unhealthful, bent-over posture that you already know causes back pain if you do it over your computer and steering wheel. I mentioned that bending over forward to stretch and exercise, although popular, and ingrained, and dogmatically and almost universally taught, is not what they needed.

Previous posts have shown how this bending does not give the best exercise or stretch: Sitting Badly Isn't Magically Healthy by Calling It a Hamstring Stretch and Common Exercises Teach Bad Bending, and is not healthy during daily life: How Often Should You Be Healthy? and promotes the same bad bent forward habits you started with that cause pain: Breasts Causing Upper Back Pain is a Myth.

What is needed is to get used to holding the body in healthful straighter ways during daily life and during exercise and stretching. In the post Better Achilles Tendon Stretch I showed how to get a better leg stretch without bending forward. Following is a nice upper spine stretch you can do while lying down to relax. Try this:

  • Lie on your back over a pillow or an article of clothing comfortably placed under your upper back between your shoulder blades. Start with your hands by your sides.
  • If this hurts, stop and see what to do in the following three paragraphs.
  • Don't put the pillow under your head or neck, just your upper back.
  • Let your upper back drop backward toward the floor.
  • Notice the feeling of the upper spine no longer rounding forward.
  • Relax and breathe. The stretch should feel good.
  • To increase the stretch, bring both arms by your ears. You should be able to raise your arms without arching your lower back or feeling pinching in the shoulder.

If you are not able to lie on your back without lower back pain, the usual reason is tightness in the front hip muscles. Do the Instantly Better Hip and Quadriceps Stretch on each leg to loosen the front of the hip.

If you are not able to lie on your back without upper back or neck pain, the usual reason is tightness in the front chest muscles and over rounding in the upper back. Do the pectoral (chest muscle) stretch described in Fixing Upper Back and Neck Pain.

If you have osteoporosis check with your doctor before doing the pillow stretch. One of the intended benefits of this stretch is to help prevent the rounding that contributes to the tendency to fracture already thin bones.

Many people spend so much of their life rounding forward, that their spine loses the mobility to bend backward, or even, in many cases to straighten enough to just lie flat and stand straight. The point of this stretch is to "unround" the upper spine and get it to relax and extend backward (arch safely) in the other direction. This stretch helps to "undo" the constant forward rounding that tightens the upper body and contributes to many pain syndromes. It is important to regain the normal flexibility to be able to straighten the upper spine enough to stand and sit and exercise in healthful straight position.

More Fun Stretches:

Book With Fun Fixes For More Stretches:


Read success stories and send your own.
See if your answers are already here - click Fitness Fixer labels, links, archives, and Index. Subscribe free - "updates via e-mail" upper right.
For personal medical questions - Replies to Medical Questions.
Limited Class space for personal feedback. Top students may earn certification,
Get more in Dr. Bookspan's Books.



Drawing of Backman!™ copyright © Dr. Jolie Bookspan
from the book
Stretching Smarter Stretching Healthier
  • 1
Was this article helpful? Yes No

About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.