You don’t need to get a massage to get all those painful knots out of your back. Grab a foam roller and a heating pad, and find sweet relief in under 10 minutes!
Sitting at your desk all day, lifting weights, and even running are all risk factors for knots developing in your upper back. These “trigger points” form when our muscles stay tense for a prolonged period of time and they are then unable to relax, causing an adhesion in the muscle.
Since it’s nearly impossible to avoid constant sitting and it’s important to keep exercising, it’s all the more important to find a way to alleviate the tension that causes these pesky knots.
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Massage and stretching are great ways to relieve tension. Since most of us can’t afford a weekly massage, self-myofascial release (SMR) is a great way to get all of the same knot-releasing benefits of going to your masseuse. Stretching also helps to keep muscles long and lean, which will prevent future knots from forming.
This easy routine uses both SMR exercises and static stretches to loosen up tight upper back muscles and to massage out any knots. Start by warming up the upper back either with a heating pad or by taking a brisk 5-10 minute walk. You’ll need an exercise mat or towel and a long medium-firmness foam roller for this routine.
Horizontal Foam Roller | 60 sec
Start with this foam rolling exercise to massage out those knots in your upper back.
- Place a foam roller horizontally across your mat and sit on the floor in front of it.
- Lower your mid-back onto the roller, at the bottom of your ribs. Interlace your fingers behind your head and gently lean your head into your palms to feel a stretch across your chest.
- Press into your feet and lift your hips to slowly slide the roller up towards your shoulders. When you feel a spot with a lot of tension, stop and pause for 20 seconds before continuing on.
- Once you get below your shoulders, roll back down towards your mid-back, again pausing at any tight spots.
Foam Roller Snow Angels | 12 reps
Next, use the foam roller to focus on your shoulder blades.
- Lie down on your foam roller so that it runs along the spine and supports both the hips and the head. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Tuck in your belly so that your lower back touches the foam roller. Reach your arms by your sides with palms facing up.
- Inhale to sweep your arms out to the sides and up overhead, keeping your fingers brushing the floor the entire time. Pause for a moment at the top to feel a nice stretch in the chest and shoulders.
- Then, exhale and sweep the arms back down by your sides.
- Repeat for 12 reps.
Double V | 30 sec per side
Stretch the tightness out of your upper back with this easy stretch.
- Lie down on your belly and prop yourself up on your forearms. Put the foam roller in front of you going horizontally across the mat.
- Cross your right arm in front of your left and then walk your hands out to the sides so that your arms are crossed underneath your body. Then, rest your forehead down onto the foam roller.
- Close your eyes and breathe here for 30 seconds, feeling a stretch through your upper back. Then, switch sides by crossing the left arm in front of the right.
Thread The Needle | 30 sec per side
This yoga-inspired stretch relieves tension and knots from the rhomboid and upper trapezius muscles in your upper back.
- Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees.
- Inhale to reach your right arm up towards the sky. Then, exhale and thread your right arm underneath your body, bringing your right shoulder and cheek to the ground.
- Press into your left palm to roll onto the right shoulder. You should feel a good stretch across your upper back.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Eagle Arm Circles | 5 reps per side
These arm rotations bring fresh blood flow to the upper back, breaking up knots and adhesions.
- Kneel down, and sit back onto your heels or a yoga block.
- Cross your right arm underneath your left and bring your palms around to touch. If this is too difficult, simply grab opposite shoulders.
- Lift the elbows in line with your shoulders and press them forward to feel a stretch in the upper back.
- Inhale to lift your chest and elbows up towards the sky. Then, exhale to take a big circle to the right, then down, and back up.
- Take 5 big circles, then cross the left arm under the right and take 5 big circles to the left.
Cat Stretch | 20 sec
This stretch removes tension from the upper back and rear delts.
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, with your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
- On an exhale, tilt your tailbone down towards the ground and round your spine. Gaze towards your belly.
- Press into your palms and breathe deeply as you hold this back stretch for 20 seconds.
Embryo’s Pose | 60 sec
Finish the routine with this gentle stretch that loosens tight upper back muscles and calms the nervous system.
- Kneel down on your hands and knees with your legs together.
- Sit your hips back on your heels and lower your forehead to the ground.
- Extend your arms back alongside your body, resting your palms face up next to your feet.
- Close your eyes and take expansive breaths into your upper back for at least 1 full minute.
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