How To Strengthen Your Upper Back and Get Rid Of Muscle Strain

Want to get rid of upper back muscle strain?  Want to strengthen your upper back muscles quickly and easily?

Just squeeze your shoulder blades together.  S Q U E E Z E  them to your spine and hold them there for a few seconds.  Repeat 3 times.

Do this only 3 times a day for the first few days or your muscles will ache from overwork.  You have to adapt to new movements gradually.  After a few days, you can start increasing the amount of shoulder blade squeezes by a couple a day.

You can do this when you are sitting, standing or laying in bed on your back.  Or all three ways!  🙂

Please watch the positioning of your head when you do this move.  The reason I like doing this on a flat surface is because your head is in a fairly neutral muscular position.

When you are standing or sitting, some people want to move their head forward.  That strains neck and upper back muscles.

Squeezing your shoulder blades toward your spine will strengthen all of the muscles in that area of your back and will help improve your posture and your comfort, too.

And, if you suffer with muscle knots in your upper back, I’d like to invite you to go to and pick up a free report about the causes of those miserable knots.


16 Replies to “How To Strengthen Your Upper Back and Get Rid Of Muscle Strain”

    1. Thank you, Margaret! Keep up the good work!

      And if you notice a type of soreness in your upper back or chest, that is because your muscles are doing something they haven’t done in a long time. It may take them a couple of weeks to adjust but they are going to love you for doing this. 🙂

      In case you need more information, there are more upper back pain articles at



      Kathryn Merrow
      The Pain Relief Coach

  1. Oh my goodness! I have had these knots for 6+ years and what you say makes sense. When I put my fingers over the knots by my shoulder blades and push I can feel the pain going into my head hence causing my headaches. I will try this exercise for a month but I noticed that just doing it once helped a bit 🙂 Thank you so much. I am just so tired of being ill with a bad back especially since I am only 26 and don’t recall anything that would have caused it in the first place. Found out yesterday that my right leg is 1/4″ smaller than my left leg but could that be from the knots…can they shorten your legs? I also tend to get knots in my hip/buttocks. I sure hope this works!

    1. Hi Celeste, You are most welcome!

      If your leg is anatomically short (the actual measurements of the leg bones are 1/4 inch less on the right) that can definitely be part of the cause of your knots.

      A leg length difference of 1/8 inch or more can cause a lot of dysfunction. The leg leg difference can be causing the knots in your hips. It can also be part of the
      cause of your headaches. It can be causing your muscles to be unhappy and to go into spasms.

      There is an easy fix for a short leg: lift the full sole of your right shoe. A shoemaker can apply a hard rubber sole to the bottom of hard-soled shoes to your exact specification (and no one will ever notice).

      A heel lift will work except that it then causes more pressure on your toes and may possibly cause your body to rotate.

      If your back gets a little achy from the shoulder blade movements, don’t worry–that will pass shortly. I think you are on the right track to getting rid of the knots in your back! 🙂

      Thank you for writing,

  2. Hi Kathryn,

    Its good to see you are so passionately helping others – really appretiate.

    I have had pain between my upper back and shoulder blade (right side – and I am right handed). This pain as I can link it also started pain in my chest and around ribs area under my arm pits (chest pain is now gone but i can still feel a knot when I yawn – although it does’nt hurt.

    Background: I am 27 years old and my job involves sitting in front of the computer all day (8-10 hours). Recently after a long time I started doing some gym workout to keep my body fit. However, It seems I overdid some excercise or did something wrong. I started feeling little tightning between my shoulder blades and spine. I have had this mild pai before too so I ignored and kept going with the excercises for another couple of days.

    Suddenly on the third day when I did not do any gym workout, while going to bed I had such a bad pain in my chest (right side, under my brest muscle but towards the cesntre of the chest) that i had difficulty breathing. I tried different postures to go to sleep but could’nt. Had to go to the hospital and then return with painkillers after 5 hours. Took painkiller for a few days but the pain kept coming and going for almost a week when it almost went away. After 3 days the pain (chest) came back again (it sometimes felt like a bubble moving through the nerves and then blowinng up).

    I went to my GP and he suggested it was a chest infection and started antibiotics (although i was not convienced, I finished the antibiotics course.). The pain went away gradually but then suddently started around my ribs underneight my armpits, night time when going to sleep was the worst time.

    Now the armpit pain is gone but another pain on the side of my right side (a bit more further doen the ribcage – towards the end of my rib cage) has started, this pain travels from the side to the back side of rib cage – this is a kind of a stinging pain, something happen when inhaling deep bredth and under some postures while going to sleep.

    Along all this time getting pain around the chest and rib area I have always felt pain between my spine and shoulder blade. Upon some research I found that the upper back problem is the main source of pain which has been triggering pain in my chest and around side rib cage area.

    I have noticed that pain between my shoulder blades and spine has ben there since my gym workout and all other pains have been moving around my rib cage, chest and shoulder areas.

    Could you help me with this please. I am having problems gettinng on with my life due to this. Thanks

    1. Hi AJ,

      A few things come to my mind. Perhaps one or more will be right? 🙂

      1. You pulled a muscle along the spine which is causing a reaction in a nerve. That nerve, then, may be sending unpleasant messages to other areas.

      2. There are muscles that are sandwiched between your shoulder blades and ribs. They are called the subscapular muscles. They can go into contraction or spasm.

      3. You have a diaphragm muscle that intersects your body just about at the bottom ribs. It can also go into spasm.

      Muscles are great because they can be treated!

      Do you have a ‘forward head’ posture? Lots of people who work at computers do. Do you sleep with your head pushed forward on pillows?

      I’m thinking (my best long distance guess) that you did overdo an exercise. Also, you don’t need to strengthen the muscles in your chest at this point. If you worked your chest too strongly it may have aggravated the muscles in your back, your subscapulae muscles, or even the muscles on your ribs and in your armpits.

      Stretching thoughtfully in the OPPOSITE directions of the exercises you did may help a lot.

      A skilled massage therapist who understands how bodies work can help tremendously.

      And ICE is a wonderful natural treatment. If I was guessing where you should apply the cold packs I would suggest where the rib pain is on the sides and front. You could also use the cold packs where the most discomfort started (note: started) on your back.

      Also try slow, subtle breathing into all of the painful areas, one area at a time. Also, slow, gentle movement to one painful area at a time.

      The doctor was doing his or her best with the training he had. They don’t tend to know much about muscles as a group (although some doctors do!)

      Because it came on immediately following a workout, that makes me suspect muscles.

      Go to and scroll through the Categories to the Massage Category. You will find an article about how to find a massage therapist who will help you. There is also a Category for Heat and Cold therapy.

      I hope this helps and that I will soon hear from you hopefully feeling much better! Let me know of any more questions.

      The Pain Relief Coach

  3. Thanks! Had those knots for years. Your explanation in the article makes perfect sense. And the simple exercise had an immediate effect.

    1. Hi Justin,

      Thank you for writing and you are welcome! Bodies do make perfect sense when we understand how they work and what they want from us. 🙂

      Now just keep remembering to do that simple exercise. And you can find more self-help and informational articles at

      The Pain Relief Coach

  4. Hello Kathryn, judging by everyone’s comment on about your article it seems you might be able help me with my problem….Well i’m a gym enthusiast who pulled a muscle surrounding my right shoulder blade while carrying my baby brother. I rested it for a week but there was still a slight pain there. However i ignored that slight pain and carried on with my gym schedule, a week or 2 later i worked my back at the gym, slept, woke up the next morning with the worst muscle pain ever- if i was to rotate my head clockwise to the right i would feel a sharp pain around the surrounding muscles around my right shoulder blade. The pain is still there but it is slowly going and it has been a month now ever since the incident.

    Could you please help me diagnose this problem and find a solution to it. For I will be forever grateful as i would like to go back to the gym…..Cheers

    1. Hello Selorm,

      Hmmm. Here are my best long distance thoughts. Based on your description, there is a muscle that is sandwiched between the shoulder blade and the ribs. It is called the subscapularis. It can be relaxed by ‘walking like a lion’. What I mean is rotating the shoulder blades–rolling them–like a lion does when it walks. Do this on all fours. I would guess this muscle especially if you also have pain like a bracelet around your wrist. That movement helps stretch the muscle. Some massage therapists also know how to help it relax.

      Now what happens is that when a muscle is tight in one area is that it will pull on muscles in surrounding areas. I think that may be what happened because the muscle that lifts your shoulders might now be involved. (Levator scapula.)

      Have you been using ice or cold packs? Ice is really good natural medicine. Use it not only on the painful areas but also on the surrounding areas.

      If you tried to do your normal gym workout but your muscles were still ‘out of balance’ that could have caused your newer pain OR you might have simply slept ‘wrong.’

      I’d go with ice, gentle stretches, subtle movements and, if you can, massage therapy directed around the area not only on it.

      I know you are anxious to work out again but this might be more the time to work on stretching the muscles in the front of your chest, abs and arms and legs. That way you are still doing something important but you will also be helping get muscles back in balance and give your back muscles a healing break.

      I’m guessing that you didn’t tear a tendon from the bone because you didn’t mention any particular weakness. My understanding is that partial tears will eventually heal themselves but complete tears usually require repair.

      Keep me updated and let me know how you are doing with this shoulder blade issue.

      The Pain Relief Coach

  5. I work in a printing factory, I am an ink tech. I lift 30 to 40 pound ink buckets all day, with hand trucking a few 300 to 500 pound drums a day. My upper back muscles are constantly giving me problems. I tried lifting small weights before I go into work, I have been going to the chiropractor for over a year. I have been also going to the doctor. I am 30 years old. Is this the best work-out for me to do before going to work?

    1. Hi Mr. Shannon, Thank you for writing. Your back muscles are getting strained and tired and crabby. Here is what I would suggest before work, during any breaks and after work.

      1. Strengthen your upper back.
      2. Lift and roll your shoulders. Up and back, up and back. I wonder whether you could do this when you are carrying the ink buckets?
      3. Stretch the muscles in the front of your arms and chest. You can do this by leaning INTO a doorway with both hands holding the door frame on the outside of the door. Position your hands on the door frame at the level of your hips and lean in; at the level of your mid chest and lean in; and over your head and lean in. NOTE: Don’t let your head lead–lead with your chest.
      4. Strengthen the muscles on the back side of your neck.
      5. If you have flat feet or flat arches in your feet, buy and wear firm arch supports from a running shoe store. About $30 at this time and will last a loooong time. Let me know if you do this and I will give you directions about how to get used to them so it doesn’t feel like you are walking on rocks.

      I hope this gives you some ideas that will help your upper back muscles feel better.

      The Pain Relief Coach

  6. Hi Kathryn,
    Thanks for the posts & thank you for caring. Woke up one month ago with what felt like a knife in my back by my left scapula & ended up going to the ED. I was told I had radiculopathy then the numbness & tingling down my left arm & 2nd, 3rd, & 4th fingers numb had started. I did have an MRI & it showed a bulging disk at C6. Dr. said no surgery. Thank God! That it will heal on its own. I have been to PT, Chiropractor, acupuncture, meds, traction, ice “I love ice it helps”, massages & now they are talking about epidural injections. I feel like I am slowly starting to heal. I feel a little humanlike now. I have never been in that sharp/acute pain for that long. It sure is debilitating & it really wears on you. I have weakness in my left arm & am working with PT for strengthening exercises. I need help with my posture any suggestions? Any suggestions with healing for my neck? What do you think about the injections? Thanks for your time and any help you can offer.

    1. Hi Joie,
      You’re welcome and thank you for writing. I am sure that you are healing. Sometimes it takes a while and sometimes we need a little help. It sounds like you are doing the right things! Ice is THE best medicine for nerve issues. I cannot respond about the epidural injections for your numbness and tingling down your arm as that’s not my expertise but I have a story for you.

      I used to work with a woman who fell asleep reading a book with her head propped forward. When she woke in the morning, she had a lot of pain, probably much like yours. During the next month, she couldn’t come to work. She tried for two half days and you could see the pain in her face. One day, her daughter asked her to watch the baby for a ‘few minutes’ while she ran down the street. Well, it was more than a few minutes and the baby started to cry. My co-worker reached down with her ‘good arm’ (because she hadn’t been able to use the other arm) to pick up the baby and her neck popped. The pain was gone. It was just the right counterweight and the disk or bones in her neck moved back into place. I have heard many more stories like this since.

      There are different types of massage. Some are more corrective. If you can find a massage therapist who practices St. John Method Of Neurosomatic or Neuromuscular Massage Therapy, that person may be able to address the muscles in your neck and shoulders in a therapeutic way which will allow the affected muscles to relax and everything to fall back into place.

      I’m glad the doctor is not pushing for surgery. Ask about the benefits you might expect from the injections and about any possible detriment. Many of my clients have had “pain injections” and sometimes they have reported benefit and sometimes not. It may depend on the skill of the doctor and their understanding of trigger points. (Trigger points are NOT just any old tender spot. They are areas of soft tissue that CAUSE pain in other areas but may not be noticeable until pressed upon. The referred pain can be quite far away.) An interesting article I saw a few months ago said that a doctor was having very good results by simply inserting a needle into the problem trigger points or tight muscles without using any medication.

      When your muscles are pulling and you are having pain, sometimes it can feel hard to have good posture. But don’t give up! Keep moving in thoughtful, different positions and sleep and sit in the most neutral, comfortable position that you can manage.

      A disk bulges because muscles are tight on one side and that causes a kind of bow-and-arrow effect, with the disk being pushed in the opposite direction. When the muscle relaxes, the disk can move back into place. This is why I suggested a neuromuscular massage therapist–to help the specific muscle that is causing the symptoms to relax. I hate it when we hurt ourselves in our sleep but I believe that you are one the road to recovery.

      Kathryn Merrow
      The Pain Relief Coach

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