Home » Self Care – Breathing exercise for upper back pain

Self Care – Breathing exercise for upper back pain

These exercises for relief from upper back pain can be very effective when done properly and regularly. Many clients balk at making the magazine rolls. So, I have added a few items that may make it easier to get started.

I have given this technique to a lot of people with great results. Some have Forward-Head Posture. Some have that sharp stitch when they take a breath. Some have pain between the shoulder blades. Some just have tightness and discomfort. I have even given this to my ALS clients, and they find that it increases their vital capacity when they get tested, if they do this regularly. Really.

It is simple and easy to do. It doesn’t require an expensive piece of equipment. The greatest stumbling block for people is the first process of wrapping a few magazines together with tape.

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Creating the magazine rolls.


All that you need is a stack of magazines and some duct tape (or Duck Tape as they call it at Wal-Mart).

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In this case, I used 4-5 Time magazines to create each roll. Other magazines work. 4-5 Time magazines are a pretty hefty roll, but I’m using it with my padded massage table. Some of my clients that are not very muscular prefer a smaller roll to use on a hardwood floor.

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I compared my second  roll to my first roll before I taped it. I had to use 4 magazines instead of 5 to get a similar size because one magazine was a thicker, special edition.

Then I simply “Duck Taped” the two rolls together.

Not Crafty?

You can also just buy this back stretcher from Amazon. It’s a little better than similar models that don’t come with the pad and ball.

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This three-pack of yoga wheels helps to mobilize and reshape your spine. I use a 3-pack like this regularly to loosen my back. I use them all but preer the small wheel. It has more focused pressure.

I have a set of three and have loaned them to a number of clients for a week. They almost always order a set for themselves. With regular use, I can see a real difference in the curve of their spine.

You can find yoga wheels on Amazon. This one has a great rating but you may want one that is a bit more narrow. Get the ones that works best for your body.

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The Process.

This is a simple process but requires patience and focus, at first.

Lay on the magazines so that the groove between the magazines lays under the center of your spine. Position the top of the magazines so that they come to the top of your shoulder. Breathe slowly for 8-10 minutes.

  1. Breathe in until you feel the tension in your back.
  2. Let it out until you reach the relaxed point.
  3. Slowly force out a little more air until you feel tension in your back again.
  4. Let the air back in.
  5. Go back to step #1

Don’t do this quickly or aggressively. It will make it less effective if you do. Expect some joints to release and muscles to relax. Often, there are little clcks of relief. Your posture will straighten a little. You’ll breathe easier. When I refer to this post from other posts about a particular problem, I’ll talk about the effects in more detail.

Also, try to avoid pulling your collarbone and chest up toward your head as you breathe in. That uses your scalene muscles and creates some thoracic outlet tension. When done correctly, this exercise should reduce thoracic outlet tension. Instead, focus on breathing so that your abdomen fills and your ribs expand out on the sides. It will seem awkward a first, but you’ll get it.

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The Video

Here’s a video of me instructing someone to do this breathing exercise with the magazines.

This site is undergoing changes. Starting in early 2020, we began changing the format of the posts to include more extensive self-care, illustrations, therapist notes, anatomy, and protocols. We appreciate your input and feedback. You will see us adding posts and updating older posts as time permits.

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Is the pain from
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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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*This site is undergoing major changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make it easier to read, more accessible, and
to include more patterns with better self-care. In the meanwhile, there will be inconsistency in formatting, content, and readability until we get the old posts updated. Please excuse our mess.