Is Your Upper Back Holding You Back?

Upper back mobility helps you reduce neck pain, shoulder injuries and improves overall posture but most of us are fairly stiff and inflexible in that area of the body.

How do you know if your upper back is mobile enough?

An easy way to check the mobility of your thoracic spine and associated muscles is this:

  • Sit down on the floor with your back up against the wall or a door.
  • Bend your hips and knees up as far as you can. This reduces any movement of the lumbar spine and forces motion to the upper back.
  • Place your arms against the wall with your elbows bent like you’re taking an oath (with each arm).
  • Now, slide your arms up the wall as far as you can. 
  • Note the angle of your shoulder where you have to stop. 

“Normal” mobility is moving your upper arm close to your ear – within about an inch while keeping your arms in contact with the wall. The first time I did this a few years ago, I barely made it to a 90 degree angle and I thought my thoracic spine was going to explode – my muscles and joints were so tight.

You can use the test as a drill to improve your mobility. If you have a partner who can help you, ask him or her to provide some resistance under your arm so you can pull down while also lifting up (yes – you can do that despite how odd it might sound).

If you find that you just cannot get your arms up much past 90-100 degrees, try just one arm at a time. In a few weeks, you’ll loosen up considerably.

How Upper Back Mobility Helps You

Normal motion of the shoulder is considered to be ~160 degrees which is basically aligning the upper arm with the ear (elbow is straight, hand pointing toward the ceiling). But, what’s happening is that the shoulder moves about 140 degrees and the remaining 20 degrees actually comes from the upper back – the thoracic spine – moving into extension and helping the shoulder each it’s full range of motion.

When your upper back become stiff or inflexible, in order to have normal shoulder motion, the extra twenty degrees has to come from some place.

The two main options are the shoulder itself – it becomes too flexible from the extra motion – or the neck and neither option is a great one.

By keeping your upper back mobile and flexible, you help keep the movement patterns of the shoulder, neck and back more normal.

Make today count.