17 Exercises for Upper Back Pain, Neck Pain, Tight Shoulders, and More

woman doing yoga stretch to relieve back pain
Danil Nevsky/Stocksy United

Ouch! Neck and back pain cramping your style?

Regardless of the cause — hunching over a smartphone, sitting at a desk all day, or even injury — stretching and strengthening exercises can go a long way in your recovery.

Below, we’ve compiled 17 moves to help stretch and strengthen the muscles in your:

  • neck
  • shoulders
  • upper back
  • mid back
  • lower back

With some daily commitment, you’ll be in less pain in no time. Let’s get started.

First things first: Loosen up the muscles in your problem area with a good stretch.

Stretching helps restore and maintain flexibility, promote range of motion, and improve blood flow — all of which can alleviate pain.The importance of stretching. (n.d.). https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching

Pick a handful of the stretches below and run through as many as you can at one time. Try to spend at least 30 seconds — ideally 1 to 2 minutes — on each move.

Neck side bend and rotation

Stand or sit facing forward, and begin by tilting your neck to the right. You should feel the stretch through your neck to your trap muscle.

After about 10 seconds, slowly roll your head in a counterclockwise direction. Pause for 10 seconds when you reach your left shoulder.

Complete the rotation by ending where you started. Repeat these steps rolling in a clockwise direction.

Repeat this sequence 2-3 times.

Good for: neck and upper back

Shoulder roll

Stand with your arms down at your sides.

Roll your shoulders backward in a circular motion, completing 5 rotations. Then complete 5 rotations forward.

Repeat this sequence 2-3 times.

Good for: shoulders and upper back

Overhead arm reach

Sit in a chair, facing forward with your feet on the ground.

Extend your right arm up above your head and reach to the left. Bend your torso until you feel the stretch in your right lat and shoulder.

Return to start. Repeat 5 times, then do the same thing with your left arm.

Good for: shoulders and upper back

Pec stretch

You’ll need a doorway for this stretch.Upper back pain exercises. (n.d.) https://www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/adult_health/sma_upper_back_pain_exercises/

Step into the doorway and place your forearms on the doorframe. Make sure your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle.

Let the weight of your body fall forward slightly so that you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders.

Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 3 times.

Good for: shoulders and upper back

Chair rotation

Sit sideways in a chair. Your right side should be resting against the back of the chair.

Keeping your legs stationary, rotate your torso to the right, reaching for the back of the chair with your hands.

Hold your upper body there, using your arms to stretch deeper and deeper as your muscles loosen.

Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.

Good for: upper, mid, and lower back

Cat cow

Start on all fours with your neck neutral.

Your palms should be directly under your shoulders, and your knees should be directly under your hips.

On your next inhale, tuck your pelvis and round out your mid back. Draw your navel toward your spine and drop your head to relax your neck.

After 3-5 seconds, exhale, and return to a neutral spine position.

Then turn your face toward the sky, allowing your back to sink toward the floor. Hold for 3-5 seconds.

Repeat this sequence 5 times.

Good for: mid and lower back

Child’s Pose

Start on the ground on all fours.

With your big toes touching, spread your knees as far apart as they’ll go and sit your butt back onto your feet.

Sit straight up with your arms extended above your head.

On your next exhale, hinge at the waist and drop your upper body forward between your legs.

Allow your forehead to touch the floor, your shoulders to spread, and your butt to sink back.

Hold for at least 15 seconds.

Good for: shoulders; upper, mid, and lower back

Knee to chest

Lay with your back on the ground. Bend your left leg and bring it to your chest. Hold for 10 seconds and release.

Repeat with your right leg. Complete the whole sequence 3 times.

Good for: lower back

Thoracic extension

For best results, use a foam roller or a chair.

If you’re using a foam roller, position it under your thoracic spine. Allow your head and butt to fall on either side. Extend your arms above your head to deepen the stretch.

If you’re using a chair, sit facing forward and allow your upper body to fall over the back of the chair. Extend your arms above your head for a deeper stretch.

Hold either position for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 3 times.

Good for: upper and mid back


Place your palms on opposite shoulders, and bring your elbows together to touch. Hold for 5 seconds and release.

Complete 3-5 more times.

Good for: shoulders and upper back

Strengthening the muscles in your back, shoulders, and neck is vital to reduce and prevent pain. Choose a handful of the moves below to target them.

Some of these moves involve dumbbells or resistance bands, and some just use your body weight. Pick a mix, if possible.


Use a resistance band or a light to medium dumbbell to complete this move.

Affix the resistance band to a pole or other stable surface and grab each handle, extending your arms.

Pull the handles straight back by bending your elbows, keeping them close to your body. You should feel your lats working.

If you’re using a dumbbell, hold it in your right hand and brace yourself on a wall with your left hand, arm extended.

Hinge at the waist to a 45-degree angle, allowing the dumbbell to hang down.

Keeping your neck neutral and your knees soft, pull the dumbbell directly up with a tucked elbow.

Good for: upper back

Face pull

Use a resistance band to complete this move.

Affix the band to a stable surface above eye level. Grab each handle with an overhand grip.

Pull directly toward your face, flaring your upper arms out to the sides and squeezing your shoulders together. Pause and return to start.

Complete 3 sets of 12 reps.

Good for: shoulders and upper back

Scapular squeeze

With your arms down by your sides, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 10 seconds and release.

Repeat 3 to 5 times.

Good for: shoulders and upper back

Wall angels

Stand with your back flat against a wall. You may need to step your feet out slightly to allow your back to completely soften against the wall.

Extend your arms out to create a “T” shape against the wall, then bend your elbows to create a 90-degree angle.

Slowly move your arms up and down in a “snow angel” motion, ensuring that they stay flat against the wall the whole time.

When your fingers touch above your head, return to the start.

Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

Good for: neck, shoulders, and upper back

Reverse dumbbell fly

Grab two light dumbbells and stand, hinged at the waist at a 45-degree angle, with your arms hanging straight down.

Keeping your neck neutral and your gaze down, begin to lift your arms out to the side and up.

Squeeze your shoulders together at the top of the movement.

Complete 3 sets of 12 reps.

Good for: shoulders and upper back

Lat pulldown

Sit or stand underneath a resistance band attached to a stable surface overhead.

Pull down on the band until your upper arms are parallel to the ground.

Pause at the bottom, squeezing your lats, and return to start.

Complete 3 sets of 12 reps.

Good for: shoulders and upper back


Lay on your stomach with your arms extended above your head.

Keeping your neck neutral, lift your arms and legs concurrently. Make sure you’re using your back and glutes to lift.

Pause briefly at the top and return to start.

Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

Good for: mid and lower back

You can complete a stretching sequence daily to regain mobility and reduce pain. Aim for at least 10 minutes per session.

Make sure you warm up before jumping into the strengthening moves.

Unsure where to start? Consider completing 10 minutes of cardio to jumpstart your muscles and get the blood flowing.

Complete a set of strengthening moves at least 3 times a week For the most impact. Aim for a mix of 3 moves per session.

In some cases, neck and back pain can be treated at home. Daily stretching and regular strengthening may help you find relief.

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But if your pain persists — or worsens — with home treatment, you should consult a doctor or other healthcare provider. Your symptoms could be tied to an underlying condition that requires professional treatment.

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