Recovery with Foam Rolling Your Upper Back


Recovery with Foam Rolling:
Foam Roller Upper Back Exercises


Suffering from neck pain, shoulder pain, or upper back pain?

Start a new workout routine and trying to workout those painful knots and tight areas in your upper body?

Take some deep breaths and worry not, my friend.

You’re in a great place to learn how to take care of that upper back muscle tension!

Since 2010 I’ve been working as a personal trainer for athletes of all ages.

In 2016 I opened my own gym called Bent On Better,

where we have helped hundreds upon hundreds of busy adults get in shape, look great, feel great, and have more energy

(and yes, help them relieve tight muscles with foam rolling and even some foam roller stretches).

In this post, you will learn,

the reasons to consider foam rolling (A.K.A. a self-myofascial release technique),

how to use a foam roller to promote better blood flow,

and the benefits of foam rolling your entire back (but more specifically your upper back).


Foam Roller Upper Back Exercises

What I love most about foam rolling is that it only takes a little time to feel the benefits, especially for those back muscles.

All you need is your own body weight and a regular foam roller.

We keep high-density foam rollers at the gym for our clients and members (these could be classified as more traditional foam rollers).

However, there are different types of foam rollers, such as trigger point rollers and low-density foam rollers, that are like a cylindrical piece of foam (with a lot of give).

I believe the best foam roller exercises can be performed with an 18″ – 36″ size high-density roller (these are also what you would find in most physical therapist offices).

Before we begin, let’s clarify the best ways to see the best results from foam rolling your upper back…

The best ways to use a foam roller is throughout your upper back, staying below your cervical spine (your neck area, just below the skull) and within your thoracic spine (located at the back of the chest, mostly between the shoulder blades).

*You can use a foam roller on your lumbar spine (your low back), but we don’t typically recommend this as it can create more issues down the road if you’re someone who frequently suffers from lower back pain or needs to strengthen your core muscles to be able to brace your core while rolling.*

For now, let’s skip the lower back area and focus on the mid and upper back muscle groups.

Also note that letting the roller go over the middle of your back may feel nice just letting the foam roller roll, but be sure to inhale and exhale between rolls while bracing your abdomen muscles (think about keeping your rib cage neutral without letting it flare out excessively).

You may even hear and feel some slight snaps and crackles; as long as they’re not creating pain, that is absolutely normal.

Reasons to consider foam roller mobilization:

  • Mid-upper back muscle soreness from a recent workout
  • Rounded shoulders, forward resting head/neck, or tight chest muscles, possibly due to poor posture while regularly working a seated desk position or office-setting job.
  • Limited motion or feeling of a “block” during overhead movements (e.g., overhead press)

Benefits of foam rolling the upper back:

  • Increased flexibility: foam rolling those tight paraspinal muscles can help to also help improve flexibility for your entire body
  • Reduced muscle soreness: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (D.O.M.S.) affects a lot of people and can be a big mental challenge (especially for newbies who think they may have hurt themselves after a challenging workout or strength training session).
  • Improved athletic performance: foam rolling your glutes is a great way to help other muscle groups in your lower body to operate efficiently and reduce the risk of injury, as well!
  • Pain relief: applying as much pressure as preferred to tight spots can help reduce pain and relieve some muscle tightness (but new rollers, be weary! Whether you are foam rolling on a rest day or before an activity, this may be painful at the start. But as you continue to move and promote healthier blood flow to that painful area, the feeling over time will subside (somewhat, at least).
  • Increased blood flow: better blood flow means better movement and even better healing!

How to foam roll the upper back

Starting position:

  • Lay down on your back with your right leg, left leg bent knees, and right foot and left foot planted on the ground.
  • Place the foam roller underneath you at the bottom of your shoulder blades.
  • Raise your hips off the ground and tighten your abdomen (as if someone is going to come over and karate-chop you in the belly) to make your body parallel with the ground.
  • Cross your arms over your chest, straighten them out directly in front of you, or use them to support your head & neck as you roll.
  • Gently roll your butt toward your heels, allowing the foam roller to roll to the base of your neck/top of your shoulders.
  • Gently roll back toward the direction you started, back to the base of your shoulder blades.
  • Repeat about 5-8 times, choosing one direction (e.g., shoulder blade to the neck) to breathe in and the opposite direction to breathe out. Change it up from time to time!
  • “Snaps,” “crackles,” and “pops” are normal to hear! However, you should discontinue if the pain is associated with these noises or directly over the spine.


Additional Mobilization Tools:

  • Foam roller
  • Lacrosse ball
  • Tennis ball
  • Massage Ball
  • Trigger point cane
  • …and more



  • In general, mobilizing tissue using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, trigger point cane, or another instrument will cause some discomfort; after all, the goal is to mobilize (move or “free up”) the tissue from any restrictions that might be limiting your body’s movement or range of motion.
  • However, you should stop if you experience too much discomfort or pain.
  • In general, you should not attempt to mobilize (foam roll, lacrosse ball, trigger point cane, etc.) a recent injury that has occurred within the past 48 hours.


Getting started at Bent On Better is simple and easy!

Just click on the blue button below and complete the form. We’ll contact you within 24 hours!




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