How to Use a Foam Roller for Your Upper Back


By Heidi Wachter |

Most muscles in your upper body can benefit from foam rolling,  but they’re harder to reach and a little trickier to release than the muscles in your lower back, glutes, and legs. Done right, though, you can safely and comfortably use a foam roller to target back pain, relieve kinks in your shoulders, and soothe overworked biceps and triceps, says Meredith Butulis, DPT, MSPT, NASM-CPT, a physical therapist and instructor at Life Time Academy in Chanhassen, Minn.

The key to foam rolling your upper body is actually to not roll much at all. Instead, use the roller to isolate smaller areas and allow them to release slowly from the pressure of your body’s weight on the roller. As things loosen up, you can wiggle and roll over the foam; if it’s too awkward, you can remain still while reaping the benefits.

The following foam-roller move loosens the musculature of the upper back, alleviating tightness that may contribute to back, shoulder, and neck pain while improving shoulder mobility. (Never foam roll the neck directly; relieving tightness in the shoulders, pecs, and upper back will help release tight neck muscles.)

Butulis notes that foam rolling is appropriate following your warm-up or as part of your cool-down, but the best time depends on which muscles you’re targeting. For preworkout, focus on larger muscles, such as the pectorals. Reserve rolling out smaller muscles or the muscles you plan to recruit in high-strength or power exercises, such as cleans, for postworkout, she advises.

Upper-Back Foam Rolling

Because many routine activities — such as sitting at desks and staring at mobile devices — pull the neck forward and down, exercises that extend the spine help release the neck and upper back while also improving overhead shoulder mobility.

  1. When the roller is even with the shoulder-blade area, bring your elbows toward each other to allow more muscle to contact the roller.

Illustration by Colin Hayes

This article has been updated. It was originally published in the December 2016 issue of Experience Life.

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