Monday Move

A Simple Stretch to Ease Upper-Back Pain

No time for a whole yoga session? Give this a shot instead.

I am tense right now. There’s a lot going on, the stakes feel high, and the only way out is through — but what that journey looks like IRL is me, sitting in front of my computer almost all day (I do take occasional standing or balance-board breaks!), with my head slowly but surely making its way toward my keyboard as I get more and more exhausted and overwhelmed.

Getting my heart rate up when I can is helping with the general vibe, but my upper back and neck still feel like they’re on the brink of disaster most of the time; one wrong move and I’ll get a crick that’ll make the next few days even harder. So today, when I take a break, I’ll be giving myself a really good upper body stretch. What I won’t be doing is trying to stretch my upper back itself (it’s already overstretched!) — instead, I’ll focus on the muscles in my chest, which get tight and shortened after hunching and tensing up for hours each day. Opening the pectorals allows the scapulae, or shoulder blades, to gently settle back where they belong: back and down on the middle of your back instead of winging out and raising up. This happy-scapula posture also sort of magically makes you feel brighter and more energetic. (Okay, it’s not magic, it’s literally that your chest becomes more open, your lungs get more space, and you can breathe more deeply. Oxygen! What a concept.)

Here’s a move to try:

Stand facing the corner of a room with your feet hip-width apart. Place your palms onto each side of the wall at head height. Keeping your core tight, step one foot forward, pressing your palms and forearms into the wall. You should feel a stretch across your chest. Hold it for 30–45 seconds (being careful not to let your shoulders hike up), take a break, and repeat with the other foot forward.

If this move feels too intense, you can also try it with just one palm or forearm against a wall or door frame, rotating your body away from the wall until you feel a stretch. And if you’re unable to stand, you can also sit and clasp your hands together at the small of your back, then gently and carefully extend your arms until you feel a stretch in your pectorals.

You can find more stretches for the aches and pains of staying at home (and some great advice for setting up your workstation in a way that won’t destroy your body) here:

As Elemental’s executive editor and an ACE-certified personal trainer, I’m suggesting a simple move each Monday to start your week on the right foot. See you next week.

Editor and writer. Past: Elemental, Real Simple, Refinery29, SELF. Certified personal trainer; prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist. Cat & person mom.

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