How to Massage Your Upper Back for Pain Relief

How to Massage Your Upper Back for Pain Relief


Massage therapy is an age-old way to reduce pain and other body issues. For centuries, massage therapy has been used to treat upper back pain. It can soothe muscle tension and injuries, help with weakened muscles, and provide a sense of calm.

To massage your own upper back, you will need your hands and a few minutes. Remember to be gentle on yourself. Don’t press too hard or strain your muscles by trying to do too much in one session.

A technique for self-massage is circular motions with the fingertips. Start at the lower end of your rib cage and slowly move up to your neck. Take several breaths as you go and let areas of tightness or discomfort relax before going on. The goal is not to work out every knot, but to release any extra tension that might be causing distress.

Understand Your Upper Back Anatomy

Grasping your anatomy is essential for soothing upper back pain. When rubbing the upper back, it’s vital to identify the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Understanding your anatomy can aid you in focusing on the areas needing relief.

Let’s investigate the anatomy of the upper back:

Muscles of the Upper Back

The upper back has complex bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Poor posture, incorrect movement, and stress can cause common upper back pain. If you understand the anatomy of the upper back, you can know which muscle needs attention when it is tense or tender.

The muscles in this area help to extend, rotate, and stabilize the spine when you move your arms. These muscles are the trapezius (or trap), rhomboid major & minor, latissimus dorsi (or lats), levator scapulae, supraspinatus, and teres major & minor.

The trapezius is a large triangular muscle. It starts in the neck and runs down the lower back. It connects to the spine at the base. It forms a diamond-shaped region on each side of the body. Its main function is to rotate the arms outward and to stabilize them.

The rhomboids have two muscles. They are between the shoulder blades. The small one is rhomboid major, and the larger one is rhomboid minor. To target these muscles, bring your arms inward. Do this during a chest press exercise. Squeeze them together for 10-20 seconds. Don’t strain if you feel pain. Stretch with rotations or side-to-side head turns to alleviate discomfort.

Be aware of your posture. Improper posturing can cause tension and pain between the shoulders. Understanding anatomy can help you recognize symptoms better and take care of yourself more efficiently. Being aware is the key to surviving whatever life throws at you.

Connective Tissue of the Upper Back

The upper back’s connective tissue is made up of several layers. These layers and their structures are:

  1. Skin – The dermis protects the muscles and bones and regulates temperature, produces oils and keeps moisture.
  2. Fascia – This thin membrane helps with muscle contraction and protects nerves and blood vessels.
  3. Muscles – The trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and serratus posterior superior/inferior muscles support movement and posture.
  4. Joints – The spine vertebrae, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, synovial fluid, and nerves make up the back region. They provide flexibility and cushion joints for movement.
  5. Nerves – They give us sensory information and help us perceive pain and other feelings.

How to Prepare for a Massage

Want to get the best out of your massage? Here are some tips!

  • Prepare yourself before the session. This will ensure you get the maximum benefit from the massage.
  • To begin with, get ready for the massage to ease upper back pain.
  • Follow these tips for an enjoyable massage experience!

Warm Up Your Muscles

Massage can soothe sore muscles and stiff joints. Prep your body for the best experience with warm-up exercises. Focus on tight and painful areas. Stretch or do arm circles or shoulder shrugs for circulation. Avoid overexerting. Use heat packs or moist hot towels if needed. This helps prepare your body for relaxation.

When it’s time for massage treatment, knots or stuck points will already be loose. Deep tissue massages can then work with maximum effect without pain or harm.

Choose the Right Massage Oil

It’s important to choose the right massage oil before beginning your upper back massage. Massage oils reduce friction, allowing the therapist’s hands to move better over your skin. If you have sensitive skin, almond or grapeseed oil may be best. If you want deeper pressure, use a thicker, unscented oil like coconut or jojoba.

Many massage oils contain therapeutic essential oils. Popular options include lavender, chamomile, eucalyptus and peppermint. Let your massage therapist know of any allergies or sensitivities, so you can have a comfortable and enjoyable experience!

Massage Techniques for Upper Back Pain

Pain in the upper back? Massage can help! It reduces tension, stiffness, and soreness. Plus, it boosts blood and lymph circulation, and increases oxygen levels in the muscles.

Let’s explore massage techniques that tackle upper back pain:


Effleurage is a Swedish massage technique used to reduce upper back pain. It decreases tension, soothes sore muscles, relieves stress and improves circulation where it is applied.

Use light pressure with the palms of your hands along the length of the muscle fibers. This should be enough pressure to feel mild discomfort. Begin from the bottom of the spine, working upwards to the neck. Use slow, steady strokes that follow the curve of your spine. Do not apply too much pressure as this may cause further discomfort.

Concentrate on any areas with tightness or tension, pushing gently but firmly over time to break down these areas. When finished, take a few seconds to relax and let your body absorb the positive effects before moving onto another area or technique.


Petrissage is a massage technique that combines kneading and compression. It’s used on the upper back to relax muscles, reduce knots, and ease tension.

Circular friction, rolling, muscle stripping/pulling, and pinching/tapping can be applied using varying pressure. The goal is to gently pinch and knead muscle fibers from many angles and directions. This works out knots and increases circulation.

To use petrissage for upper back pain relief, find the source of tension with your thumbs. It may feel tender and warm. Then, press-knead in small circles until tension or discomfort is reduced. Knowledge of anatomy is important as targeting sensitive points without understanding can cause pain or injury.


Friction is a massage method used to relax sore muscles and help them recover. It works best on smaller, easier-to-reach muscles like those in the upper back.

Find tension with your finger pads or thumbs. Apply steady pressure and massage the area in circles for two minutes. Take short breaks during the massage, so muscles can rest and be more receptive. Spend two minutes massaging each area, then move onto another part of the body.

For optimal upper back pain relief, aim for 10-15 minutes of massage at a time.

Trigger Point Therapy

Trigger point therapy is a type of massage. It targets certain points in the muscles. These points form from waste products in tight fibers, and can be painful when pressed.

Trigger point therapy releases tension. It increases blood flow to the area, reducing pain and restoring movement.

A massage therapist will find knots or rigid areas with their fingers or knuckles. Pressure is applied for 10-30 seconds until it releases. Friction or gentle rotating motions help break up adhesions and improve circulation.

Stretching and strengthening exercises can also help reduce upper back pain.


Post-massage, take a break! Rest up, and eat light, nourishing meals. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water and, if needed, ice the area. These practices can help you keep the results of your massage and get the most out of it.

Want to get the best out of your upper back massage? Here’s some tips for aftercare to help ease any pain:

  • Rest up
  • Eat light, nourishing meals
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Ice the area if needed


Stretching can be helpful for soreness in the upper back. Maintain each stretch for about 20-30 seconds. If it feels ok, you can make it deeper by breathing more deeply and going a bit further into the stretch. Here are several helpful stretches:

  • Upper Trapezius Stretch – Make a salute with one arm. Pull the elbow of that arm with your other hand towards the opposite side of your body until you feel a stretch in the shoulder blade area. Do this on both sides.
  • Shoulder Blades Retraction – Stand or sit tall with your arms at your sides. Draw in your shoulder blades until they almost touch, while keeping palms facing forward. Hold this position for 10-20 seconds. Then release and repeat as needed.
  • External Rhomboid Stretch – Put both arms behind you with hands clasped together at waist level. Lean away from concave hands, stretching the rhomboids until you feel a good stretch in the chest area. Hold this for 10-20 seconds before releasing. Do this 3-4 times or whenever you experience pain or tightness in the upper back after a massage.


Post massage, it’s a must to stay hydrated. Drink 8 oz. more every day for the next three days, in addition to your regular water intake. Also, electrolyte-based sports drinks like Gatorade can help replenish lost minerals due to sweating during the massage.

Finally, minimize alcohol consumption for 24 hours after the massage, to maximize the health benefits of the massage.


A massage is a great way to relax, but it’s important to rest afterwards. Rest helps heal muscles, and it’s a good idea to take a break between massages. If you have pain, take a whole day to relax. Don’t do anything strenuous like heavy lifting or exercising after massaging your upper back.

Get comfy and drink lots of water to rehydrate and get rid of toxins. This will reduce soreness and help your overall health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do I have upper back pain?

A: Upper back pain can be caused by a number of factors, including poor posture, muscle strain or injury, and stress. Consult with your doctor if your pain persists or is severe.

Q: How do I prepare for a back massage?

A: Find a comfortable position to lie down in and make sure your back is exposed. You can use a towel or small pillow to support your head and neck.

Q: How do I massage my upper back for pain relief?

A: Use a massage ball, foam roller, or your hands to apply pressure to the upper back muscles, moving in a circular motion. Focus on areas of tension and discomfort.

Q: How much pressure should I apply during a back massage?

A: Apply moderate pressure during a back massage. Use your own comfort level as a guide and work with your body to find the ideal amount of pressure.

Q: How often should I massage my upper back for pain relief?

A: You can massage your upper back as often as needed for pain relief. Daily self-massage can help prevent future pain and discomfort.

the back recovery program by alex larsson
Jane Smith is a natural health enthusiast on a mission to uncover effective methods for achieving pain-free living. Through her personal journey with chronic back pain, she has become well-versed in holistic approaches such as yoga, Pilates, and essential oils.

Related Articles