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Tight between the shoulders blades? A physio explains how to test and stretch this problem area.

Published: August 13, 2020

Tightness in the thoracic or mid back region is common problem that we see in our Newcastle physiotherapy clinic. Clients often describe it as tight, aching pain in between the shoulder blades, feeling the need to stretch or crack the area. It can also be a causative factor in conditions like shoulder impingement, cervicogenic neck pain, rib sprains and rotator cuff tears.

This area in the back can tighten up for a number of reasons. Some people are naturally a bit stiffer in their spine, others sit in a  poor posture for long hours each day performing sedentary work. And still for another group of people their back may stiffen due to the high workload they put through the muscles with sport and working out.

To check whether you are stiff perform these two key tests:

1) Mid back rotation: sitting in a chair cross your arms over your chest and rotate your upper body. You shoulder should be able to reach a 60 degree angle from your starting position. Less than this indicates a need to stretch.

2) Mid back extension: Sitting in a chair raise your arms over your head. You should be able to comfortably reach to 180 degrees with your arms. This is demonstrated in Photo A, Photo B demonstrates a lack of thoracic extension (possibly a bit exaggerated).

Photo A: Thoracic extension test


Photo B: Poor thoracic Extension


So if you have a tight mid back how do you stretch? Below are two simple stretches that you can start using to increase the range of motion in your upper back. It is recommended that you start with the towel extension stretch before progressing on to more aggressive stretching techniques with the foam roller.


Opposite arms to leg. Repeat each side for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.


Hold for 30 seconds at 3 different levels.

If you continue to have tightness or pain between the shoulder blades you may require treatment from a physio. During a standard session targeting this area your therapist can use a wide range of techniques including manipulation (cracking), mobilisation, dry needling, ultrasound, massage and assisted stretching.

At BodyWorx Physio we have an emphasis on long term solutions to pain and injury. For this reasons the majority of clients are shown stretches and strengthening exercises to help target their problem area. By including active treatment with your hands on physiotherapy you can gain quicker pain free movement and preserve your results longer by continuing this after treatment has stopped. If you have any questions please do no hesitate to give us a call on 49527033 or duck into our clinic at 78 Glebe Rd, The Junction.