Upper back stretches for relieving back stiffness

Does your upper back feel stiff when you wake up? Do you notice back discomfort during the course of the day?

This exercise video with physiotherapist Michelle Kenway shows you an easy exercise technique for relieving upper back stiffness and improving posture.

Video Suitability: The exercises in this video are generally suited to healthy women and men.

Avoid: If you have severe spinal osteoporosis with a high risk of spinal fracture.


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Equipment Required 

You will need:

  • 1 bath towel or thick hand towel
  • 1 pillow or cushion to support your head and neck
  • Firm support surface for lying down on your back (preferably not a soft mattress)
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Set Up for Back Stretches

  • Fold a bath towel in half length ways
  • Roll the towel up so that your thumb and third finger touch when you grasp it with one hand
  • Position the rolled towel length ways so that it is positioned directly beneath your upper/middle back when you lie down
  • Lie down on you back and directly on the towel roll. This should feel comfortable – if you feel back discomfort reduce the thickness of the towel roll or use a hand towel instead.
  • Support your head and neck with the cushion or pillow
  • Bend both knees and keep both feet flat to the supporting surface.

Technique for Back Stretches

These back stretches should always feel pain-free and within your comfortable range of shoulder movement.


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Stretch 1

Position your body lying down in the set up position described above

  • Start with your arms resting either side of your body
  • Breathe in and reach your hands towards the ceiling with your palms facing
  • Breathe out slowly as you reach your arms overhead towards the ground above your body – avoid stretching into a position of discomfort for your shoulders
  • Lower your arms back down beside your body


Stretch 2 (Variation)

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This stretch promotes good upright posture by addressing spinal flexibility and stretching the chest muscles.

  • Start in the same position described for Stretch 1 with both of your arms raised towards the ceiling
  • Turn your palms to face your feet
  • Breathe out slowly as you bend and lower your bent elbows so that the back of your upper arms touches the supporting surface
  • Breathe in and reach your arms back towards the ceiling
  • Repeat this upper back stretch as many times as feels comfortable for your body – on average approximately 10 times in a row

How Many Stretches?

Repeat these exercises slowly up to 10 times in a row. Start out with that number of exercises that feels most comfortable for your body.


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How Often to Stretch?

Flexibility exercises are increasingly important for all of us as our bodies mature. Ideally try to perform flexibility or stretching exercises on at least 5 days of the week.

The upper back stretches in this video can be repeated at intervals throughout the day to prevent or relieve back stiffness and help promote good upright posture.

For more whole body exercises for women refer to Michelle’s Inside Out Strength Physiotherapist-guided Exercise DVD (for women).


Michelle Kenway is a Physiotherapist and author of the Inside Out women’s safe exercise program. Michelle’s Inside Out Strength exercise DVD shows women how to strengthen safely with a physiotherapist guides workout.

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