😍😋😙 This article was medically reviewed by Sarah Gehrke, RN, MS. Sarah Gehrke is a Registered Nurse and Licensed Massage Therapist in Texas. Sarah has over 10 years of experience teaching and practicing phlebotomy and intravenous (IV) therapy using physical, psychological, and emotional support. She received her Massage Therapist License from the Amarillo Massage Therapy Institute in 2008 and a M.S. in Nursing from the University of Phoenix in 2013.
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😍😋😙 Back pain or tension is a common problem for many people. Stress, anxiety, injury, and inactivity can all cause pain in your neck as well as upper and lower back.XResearch source You may also have back pain from sore or tight muscles. You can stretch out these areas by targeting your neck and upper and lower back with a foam roller, also known as myofascial release.
Method 1Method 1 of 2:Lengthening Your Neck and Upper Back
- 1Arch your neck. A foam roller can stretch out tight muscles and relieve any pain or tension you may have. It’s especially great for stress-related soreness that accumulates in the neck and upper back.XResearch source Your upper back muscles are hearty and can usually take the pressure a foam roller provides. But your neck and lower back are more delicate and a foam roller may put too much pressure on it. Exercise caution when using the foam roller on your neck and lower back, and illicit help from your doctors, such as your chiropractor, physical therapist, or athletic trainer, if needed.
- Place the foam roller at the top of your shoulders and then lay your head on top of it. Allow your head to gently drift towards the floor until you feel a stretch. Let your head continue to the floor as long as you are comfortable. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Push your legs gently towards your head to get a gentle massage. You should feel the roller move over your neck with some pressure.
- Lift your head up gently when you’re finished.
- Consider using a foam roller cut in half or a massage ball or pillow instead of a full foam roller to protect your neck.
- 2Roll over your shoulder blades. One of the best ways to stretch your shoulders, neck, and upper back is to simply roll over them. This applies broad pressure across the area to relieve tension. At the same time, it also helps stretch out the upper back and neck muscles.
- Sit on the floor and set your foam roller about a foot behind your bum. Lie back with your feet on the floor. Your shoulder blades should touch the roller. Raise your hips and shift your weight to the top of the roller. Then use your feet to move your roller between the middle of your back and your neck.
- Place your hands on your chest to target internal muscles in your upper back.
- Make 20 passes up and down your upper back and neck area.XResearch source
- 3Perform thoracic extensions. Many people sit rounded forward during the day. This contracts your upper back and neck muscles and may cause pain and injury. Doing thoracic extensions—or arches—can stretch out your middle and upper back muscles as well as those in your neck.
- Sit on the floor and set your foam roller about a foot behind you. Lie back with your feet hip-width apart on the floor. Your middle back should touch the roller.
- Cross your arms and hand over your chest and extend back over the roller. Try and touch your head to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds and returning to starting position.
- Repeat this progression up your back until you stretch the muscles in your shoulders and neck.
- 4Enjoy cat-cow stretches. Most people associate cat-cow with yoga and not foam rollers, but you can use both to stretch out your back. Try a series of 10 cat-cows to stretch out your entire back.
- Set the foam roller parallel to your body. Place your hands on the top of it about shoulder width apart. Keeping your hands firmly on the roller, inhale as you slowly arch your upper back towards the ceiling while looking down towards your hips.
- Reverse the motion as you exhale. Slowly lift your head and hips towards the ceiling.
- Avoid forcing your back and neck past your range of motion, which may cause over-straining.XResearch source
- 5Open your chest muscles. Tight back and neck muscles often happen because of tight chest muscles. This is a result of sitting forward all day. Using your foam roller on your chest muscles can stretch them out along with your neck and back.
- Set the roller on the ground and lie with your chest on it. Place your hands on either side of the roller. Then gently move yourself up and down the roller. Hold for 10 seconds in spots that need more stretching than others.
Method 2Method 2 of 2:Extending Your Lower Back
- 1Pull in a leg. Double your efforts by using the pressure of the foam roller together with specific stretches. Lying on the roller as you pull one leg towards your knee can relieve pain and tension while stretching your lower back muscles.
- Sit on the floor and place roller on your lower back just above your hips. Lean back and hug your knee. Pull your knee back towards your chest while using your other foot to roll up to just underneath your chest. Repeat slowly 10-12 times and then switch to the other side.
- 2Try stretching with child’s pose. Another stretch commonly associated with yoga is child’s pose. This is a great lower and upper back stretch. Using a foam roller with it can allow you to stretch your back muscles much more deeply.
- Place the foam roller in front of you with your hands on it. Then sit your hips back towards your ankle. You may want to spread your knees apart for a better stretch. Exhale and melt your arms into your roller. You should feel a good stretch in your lower and upper back.
- Hold child’s pose for as long as you like.
- 3Massage your hip flexors. In most cases, lower back tightness is not due to an issue with the lower back muscles. Instead, it’s often other muscle groups, such as the hip flexors, that cause the pain. Using your foam roller to massage your hip flexors can help stretch out your lower back.
- Locate your hip flexors at the front of your upper thigh and pelvis. Then place the foam roller under your hip flexors. You can use your hands to hold up yourself on place the foot of the leg not being rolled on the ground. Gently roll your body forward and backward for 15-90 seconds to massage the front of your hip and pelvis.
- Keep your pelvis relaxed and breathe normally to get the best stretch.
- 4Release your glutes. Just like the hip flexors, tight glutes—or butt—muscles can also cause a tight lower back. Using a combination of the foam roller and body positioning, you can stretch out your lower back and glutes.
- Sit with the foam roller underneath both of your glutes. Then lift your right leg and put your ankle over your left knee. You should already feel a stretch. Shift your weight slightly onto your right hip and roll back and forth for 10-12 passes.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Never use a foam roller on or over a joint.XResearch source
- Use caution so as to not extend past your normal range of motion.XResearch source
- If direct pressure on the roller is painful, you should start with partial pressure and/or shift the roller to decrease the amount of pressure.XResearch source
- Foam rolling can exacerbate an injury. Discomfort is common during foam rolling; however, shooting pain, throbbing pain, or any pain that does not subside needs an evaluation from your doctor.
About this article
You can stretch your upper and lower back, as well as your neck, by doing foam roller exercises. To focus on your neck, lie on your back, place the foam roller at the top of your shoulders, and lay your head on top of it so your neck is arched. Use your legs to gently roll your neck over the foam roller. For your upper back, lie on the foam roller so it’s at the middle of your back. Arch your back as much as you can and then release it to perform a thoracic extension. Repeat the motion 10-12 times. To target your lower back to release tension, lie on the roller and position it just above your hips. Pull in 1 leg and hold it for a few seconds, then switch legs. For tips about how to massage your hip flexors with a foam roller from our Medical co-author, read on!