Perform at least 2 minutes of extension throughout the day.
A common contributor to musculoskeletal symptoms is the rounded back we develop when doing activities like driving, working at a computer, and using a phone. Maintaining extension in the upper back can help to relieve these symptoms and improve mobility in multiple joints, including the ribcage, neck, and shoulder.
Place a rolled-up towel on the ground perpendicular to the spine. Lie down on your back and position the towel at the very top of the back, just below the arch of the neck. Place the feet flat on the floor so that the knees are bent, and fold the hands behind the head, flaring the elbows as close to the ground as possible.
Tuck the tailbone between the legs so that the lower back lies flat against the ground. The Supine Pelvic Tilt exercise can help if you are unfamiliar with this movement. Next, draw a line up the floor with the back of the head to stretch the back of the neck.
In this position, you may feel a stretch at the base of the neck and across the chest. If you don’t feel a stretch, adjust the towel further up and down until you feel a stretch. Once you have a stretch, breathe diaphragmatically to further stretch the ribs.
Try this exercise at multiple points along the spine between the neck and the bottom rib, and with a variety of fulcrums. A chair, towel, and foam roller all have advantages and disadvantages when used as a fulcrum.
Arching over the back of a chair is very accessible but can be challenging when the upper back is stiff and can’t arch very far back.
Lying on a rolled-up towel placed perpendicular to the spine is a good intermediate size that can extend more specific areas of the back than a foam roller, but is limited to one area of the back at a time. To get around this, try moving the towel up and down the spine every 30 to 60 seconds to work on the stiffest points.
Using a foam roller on the upper back means you can transition up and down the spine fluidly by rolling up and down, but many foam rollers are so large in diameter that it is difficult to keep the lower back from arching. If in doubt, start with the chair and the towel and then move to the foam roller as the back becomes more mobile.
• Extending the lower back. As the lower back has a natural arch, it is less beneficial to forcefully arch this part of the spine over a fulcrum. Instead, try to decrease the arch in the lower back and increase the arch in the upper back, where hunching normally occurs. You can limit the arch in the lower back by tucking the tailbone under with the Supine Pelvic Tilt exercise. Once the tailbone is tucked under, relax your abdominals and let the fulcrum stretch your back.
You should be able to feel the ground with your lower back and elbows when lying over a rolled-up towel, before progressing.