Upper back and neck pain are the worst. Not being able to turn your head and look over your shoulder plus feeling like your shoulders are permanently attached to your ears has a very confining, straight-jacket-like feeling.
Most upper back and neck pain happens not because the neck is tense but because the shoulders are. Your shoulders “hang” from your neck in a sling of muscles; when you get stressed out or sit in front of a computer too long, these muscles get really tight and pull your neck out of alignment.
Fortunately, freeing up the scapula (shoulder blade) is pretty easy. This stretch will get you well on your way to increased shoulder flexibility and also give you upper back and neck pain relief.
Here’s what you do:
Stand arm’s length away from the wall. Put your palms flat against the wall and spread your fingers wide.
Step back away from the wall and stretch out so your hands are directly overhead, like Superman. Pull the belly button in toward your spine to protect your low back.
Once you’ve achieved optimal form, press your palms into the wall with a slight downward pressure, like you’re trying to slide the heels of your hands down the wall. Engage all the muscles of your arms and shoulders, using 100% of your strength to press into the wall. Remember to keep your belly button engaged.
Hold this isometric contraction for 15-20 seconds and then relax, deepening the stretch (but be careful not to let go of your belly button and let your low back hyperextend when you relax).
Repeat this 2-3 times, deepening the stretch a little more with each repetition.