Upper Back Pain: The 14 Best Exercises and Stretches - Video Guide (2023)

Video Guide - Don't Let Upper Back Pain Hold You Back. Control your pain with these exercises.

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Caroline Jones physiotherapist

Clinically verified by

Pierre Schydlowsky, Ph.D.

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Ever felt like you had the weight of the world on your shoulders? Stress and tension often accumulate in the muscles of the shoulders and upper back. This can lead to neck and shoulder pain and possibly a headache. The upper back is often neglected when exercising, but it's important not to neglect this area. It plays a key role in controlling posture and core strength as well as movement. When not working optimally, poor lifting technique can lead to injury and pain.

The upper back begins at the base of the neck, encompasses the shoulders, and extends down the middle of the spine, including the ribs. The complexity of this region means that dysfunction can occur due to injury or pain and progressive degeneration.

Are you looking for a solution to your back pain problem?Try the Injurymap Fitness app now.


  • Why it's so important to stretch and strengthen your upper back muscles
  • Anatomy of the muscles of the upper back.
  • What can go wrong
  • Strengthening exercises for the muscles of the upper back.
  • Stretches for the muscles of the upper back
  • Other techniques to treat back pain

Why it's so important to stretch and strengthen your upper back muscles

Your priority should be finding the balance between muscle length and strength. When muscles are too strong without proper stretching, they can shorten and contract. Less commonly, if your joints are too flexible and lack proper stability, they can become too loose and you won't be able to properly control your movement.

The muscles of the upper back are often overlooked during training in favor of finding stronger, more impressive muscles that contribute more to your aesthetic. However, they are the cornerstone of posture and if you ignore them, prepare yourself for injury. By spending time training your upper back muscles, you'll find that with a better muscle pattern, you can lift heavier and avoid unwanted injuries.

No pills. Just train.

Anatomy of the muscles of the upper back.

The neck is made up of seven cervical vertebrae, the basic components of the spine. Each block is separated by a disc that sits in the middle, and each vertebra has a facet joint on each side. The seventh cervical vertebra, known as the C7, meets the first of the 12 T1 thoracic vertebrae at the base of the neck, a point known as the cervicothoracic (CT) junction. This can be a common source of pain as the spine curves from lordotic (concave) to kyphotic (convex). Increased kyphotic chest curvature can lead to the development of a prominent stooped posture.

Each vertebral level has a pair of nerve roots, one coming from each side of the spine. These nerve roots descend to supply their corresponding part in the arm. This can lead to radiating pain, for example if a nerve root in the spine is irritated or inflamed, symptoms can be felt in the corresponding region. on the forearm or fingers. For example, if C7 is injured, you may feel pain in your index and middle fingers.

The shoulder blades, also known as shoulder blades, are responsible for the movement stability of the shoulder and forearm. They rotate, retract, and protrude, and their pattern of movement and stability can greatly affect your arm's posture and function. If the muscles around your shoulder blades aren't working properly, you could end up with a "winged scapula," where your shoulder blades protrude.

The muscles of the upper back and how they work:

  • trapeze(top, middle, bottom) - a diamond-shaped muscle divided into three sections. They are not designed to be heavy but are often abused with improper lifting technique.

  • diamonds- Connect the shoulder blades to the spine

    (Video) Thoracic Spine Pain | Upper Back Exercises From A Physical Therapist

  • spine erector– These long, flat muscles run along the spine like railroad tracks on either side of the spine. The spine erectors are not designed for weight lifting or stability and are only meant to straighten the spine, but they can cramp for back pain.

  • wider back– the large, wing-shaped back muscles, which are an important engine of shoulder function. These are the muscles you use in exercises like pull-ups and lat pulldowns.

  • rotator cuff– This group of four muscles (infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor) provides stability around the shoulder joint. The shoulder ligaments are quite weak and loose compared to other body parts. This means they rely on rotator cuff muscle strength for stability.

  • Deltamuskel– the muscles that cover the upper shoulder area. They are important when lifting as they initiate the upward movement of the arm.

  • Chest muscles(Pectoralis major and Pectoralis minor) These muscles are located in the front of the chest but have a major impact on the upper back. When the pecs are tight, they pull the shoulder joint forward, resulting in hunched shoulders.

  • serrated front– wraps around the side of the rib cage on each side and acts to pull the scapula forward

The upper back also includes 12 pairs of ribs, between each of which are muscles known as the intercostal muscles. These muscles can become painful over a long period of time if you cough excessively or are short of breath.

Related Content

  • Trapeziusschmerz
  • shoulder blade pain
  • Is the shoulder pain due to a pinched nerve?

What can go wrong

  1. One of the most common causes of upper back pain is muscle tension, which causes the upper trapezius and upper trapezius muscles to tighten.nerve invasionin the space above the shoulder blade (the suprascapular space). Referred neck pain can occur due to pinched nerves running across the shoulder blade and can also cause arm pain or numbness and tingling.

  2. you too can sufferDegeneration of the facet jointsof the vertebra, closing the space, which means that there is not much space left for the nerve roots to pass through and they can be compressed.

  3. disc prolapseIt can sometimes be called a "slippery puck", but the puck doesn't actually slide, it buckles. This can lead to compression or irritation of the exiting nerve root. Due to the age-related degeneration and dryness of the intervertebral discs, which leads to a decrease in the height of the intervertebral discs, the nerve roots can be compressed even without a herniated disc.

  4. attitudeIt is one of the biggest causes of upper back pain and weakness. Office work and the increasing use of technology across the population are leading to higher rates of bad posture and back and neck injuries. Anteriorly rotated shoulders can cause the external rotators to weaken and tighten the pecs and flexed posture.

14 great exercises for back pain

Strengthening exercises for the muscles of the upper back.
  1. Infraspinatus-Übung I

    8 reps x 3 sets

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    The external rotators of the shoulder are important for posture because they keep the shoulder blades in a "down and back" position, which prevents the shoulders from rounding. This is a useful exercise even if you don't have shoulder pain because strengthening these muscles allows you to lift more weight in a stronger and more secure shoulder position.


    • Stand up or sit in a chair without armrests.
    • Keep your arm close to your body and pull your shoulder back slightly.
    • Bend your elbow 90 degrees and wrap the exercise band around your hand and hold it with your other hand.
    • Rotate your arm outward so the exercise band is taut.
    • Perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions with each arm.
  2. Standing Shoulder Exercise I

    8 reps x 3 sets

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    The "lats," as they're commonly known, are the large "wing-like" muscles that span the back in bodybuilders and are also prominent in swimmers. They are used to perform a downward pull movement, the action used in pull-ups but also in shoulder extensions, where the arm is pulled back.


    • Grab two medium-resistance exercise bands.
    • Tie the end of one exercise band to a door handle or similar and hold the other exercise band in your hand.
    • Keep your arm slightly stretched in front of your body.
    • Pull your arm back to tighten the exercise band.
    • Perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions with each arm.
  3. exercise "bouquet"

    10 repetitions

    (Video) 14 MIN Shoulder Pain & Tension Relief Workout with Miranda Esmonde-White | Essentrics

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    The deep neck flexors are the key postural control muscles in the neck and upper shoulder, keeping the head in proper alignment with the neck and shoulders. These muscles are often not properly activated in patients with neck pain and are the first port of call in neck and postural rehabilitation.


    • sit up straight
    • Keep your head in a neutral position.
    • Move your head forward as far as possible.
    • The chin and forehead should point evenly forward so that they are always in a vertical line.
    • Then move your head back and do pull-ups.
    • Repeat the movement 10 times in both directions.
  4. lateral pranch I

    3 reps x 1 set

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    This is an effective plank variation that targets the core muscles on the side of the torso, the obliques, and the muscles around the planted elbow-shoulder girdle. To progress with this exercise, you can raise your hands and feet


    • lie on one side.
    • Support yourself with one forearm on the floor and the bottom foot on the floor and the other foot on it.
    • Raise your body so it is in line with your legs.
    • Pull your pelvis up and tighten your abs and hold for 5 seconds.
    • Do 3 reps on each side.
  5. Standing Shoulder Pulldown I

    8 reps x 3 sets

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    The lines point to the muscles of the upper back and the back of the shoulder. For optimal maximum muscle contraction, squeeze your shoulder blades together at the end of each pull before releasing them forward.


    • Stand with your arms at your sides.
    • Keep your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle.
    • Attach the exercise band to a wall, doorknob, or similar object.
    • Pull your arms back as if squeezing your shoulder blades together so the exercise bands are taut.
    • Do 3 sets of 8 reps.
  6. pull shoulder

    5 repetitions

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    Retractable shoulder pull-ups are perfect for people trying to improve their posture. This exercise can be performed by administrative staff at regular intervals throughout the day. The shoulder blades slide down and back, hold for a few seconds, and then relax.


    • Relax your shoulders and let them drop.
    • Pull your shoulders back so your shoulder blades are together.
    • Hold the position for 10 seconds and then return to the starting position.
    • Do 5 repetitions.
    (Video) Foundation Training original 12 minutes w/ Dr. Eric Goodman

Core strength is incredibly important to preventing back pain by ensuring proper posture and postural endurance. The plank is the perfect exercise to train the core muscles and the stabilizers of the shoulders. It has many variations for all levels and can be done on hands or elbows and knees or toes. To further advance the exercise, lift one hand off the floor and rotate your arm and torso toward the ceiling before coming back and repeating on the opposite side.

Push-ups – push-ups against the wall

While primarily targeting the pecs, push-ups also work the shoulder stabilizers. This can be done on your toes, knees, or even hands on a bench or wall to make it a little easier. Slowly bend your arms to lower your chest toward the floor or bench. Pause for a second, then push back with your arms outstretched. It is important that you maintain a solid core at all times.

fly backwards

Use a resistance band anchored upright or two attached to each other. Keeping your elbows straight, pull your arms back, keeping your hands at shoulder level. This exercise effectively strengthens the rear shoulder muscles.

shrug your shoulders

The shrug targets the trapezius muscles and can be performed with light dumbbells or hand weights, or with no weight. Gently bring your shoulders towards your ears, hold for 3-5 seconds, then slowly release.

Stretches for the muscles of the upper back
  1. stretch chest

    30 seconds. x 3 games

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    It's important that the pecs aren't tight because they can rotate the shoulders forward, resulting in a rounded stance. This is especially important for office workers who spend a lot of time hunched over a computer keyboard.


    • Stand on the edge of a wall.
    • Raise your arm until it is approx.
    • 60 degree angle.
    • Brace your elbow against the wall and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your pecs.
    • Perform three reps on each arm for 30 seconds with a short rest between each rep.
  2. stretch trapezoid

    30 seconds.

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    Trapezius stretches are one of the easiest stretches you can do, but they can also be the most effective. Gently tilt your ear toward your shoulder. For an extra stretch, you can apply slight pressure and sit on the opposite hand, making sure your shoulders are away from your ear.


    • Sit in a chair with your back straight.
    • Place one hand on the back of your head so that your forehead rests on your forearm.
    • You should use your other hand to secure your shoulder and grab the edge of the chair.
    • Turn your head to the same side as the raised arm.
    • Tilt your head forward at an angle and feel it expand toward the shoulder blade.
    • It shouldn't hurt in the direction you tilt your head.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat the stretch with your head tilted to the opposite side.
  3. Stretch between the shoulder blades

    30 seconds. x 3 games

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    The muscles between your shoulder blades can be quite tight, and this gentle stretch is an effective way to lengthen them.


    • Sit in a chair.
    • Bring your fingers together and place them under one of your knees.
    • Relax your shoulders, push your leg toward the floor, and feel the stretch between your shoulder blades.
    • Then do the same with the other leg.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and do 3 reps on each leg.
    (Video) Yoga for neck, shoulders and upper back 15min
child pose

This is a great all-around stretch because it lengthens the spine and stretches the shoulders. It's the perfect choice for the end of a workout, and yoga classes often end with this stretch. Open your knees as wide as the mat. Lean forward so your stomach rests between your thighs and let your forehead lightly touch the mat. For extra stability, place your hands flat on the floor in front of you.

Other techniques to treat back pain

Other techniques for stretching and stretching your upper back muscles include foam rolling, activation, and massage. While they are great for short-term relief, the initial problem, e.g. A muscle imbalance or improper activation, for example, can persist and if not resolved, the stiffness will simply return. For example, if you get a massage to relax your shoulder muscles but do nothing to correct your poor posture, they will only tighten up again. However, these techniques are very useful for muscle recovery after an intense workout or event.

Desk workers need to ensure they adopt the correct posture when using the computer and other technological devices, including an ergonomic assessment of their workspace to ensure the monitor, mouse and keyboard are in the correct position to reduce stress, strain and prolonged irritation to avoid . Postures Taking regular breaks from sitting at a desk to stretch your neck and move your shoulders is also beneficial.

By taking care of your upper back, you lay a solid foundation for excellent posture and movement. Good luck with these exercises and stretches and I hope it helps prevent back pain and injury!

Treat your pain with Injurymap

Download the app for a personalized program that uses exercises to target your specific pain.

About the author

Caroline Jonesis a trained physiotherapist, personal trainer and lymphoedema therapist. After suffering a serious back injury and undergoing spinal surgery and rehabilitation, she understands firsthand the benefits of exercise as medicine and is passionate about getting patients moving.

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The Best Back Pain Exercises That Relieve Back Pain Dramatically


What are the best stretches for upper back pain? ›

Lower neck and upper back stretch
  1. Stretch your arms out in front of your body. Clasp one hand on top of your other hand.
  2. Gently reach out so that you feel your shoulder blades stretching away from each other.
  3. Gently bend your head forward.
  4. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat 2 to 4 times.

What is the fastest way to relieve upper back pain? ›

Nonoperative Treatments
  1. Gentle stretches.
  2. Over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  3. Ice to reduce pain and swelling.
  4. Heat to improve mobility and ease stiffness.

What causes upper back pain between shoulder blades? ›

Upper back pain between the shoulder blades has many causes, including muscle strain, herniated discs, arthritis, or, less often, a serious health problem. Treatment for pain between the shoulder blades depends on the cause but frequently includes stretching and medications for pain.

What is the one stretch that relieves back pain? ›

Two effective stretches for the back muscles are back flexion and knee-to-chest. For the hip and gluteus stretches, these are piriformis stretch and hip flexor stretch. One of the most important muscles to stretch is the hamstring.

What exercises should I avoid with upper back pain? ›

Avoid: High-impact activities.

High impact exercises, such as jogging and high-impact aerobics, can put pressure on a disc and cause more injury. Also, avoid movements that cause twisting, such as golf, as it can up back pain pressure.

Why won't my upper back stop hurting? ›

Chronic upper back pain may be a result from a serious cause or injury, like a car accident, or as a side effect of a medical cause such as joint dysfunction, herniated disc, or Scheuermann's Disease, a condition typically affecting teenagers.

What pressure point relieves upper back pain? ›

Triple Energizer 3: Stimulated to help ease upper back pain, headaches, neck stiffness, and shoulder pain, this acupoint is located in the groove between the fourth finger and pinky.

How can seniors strengthen their upper back? ›

With palms facing down, extend your arms from your shoulders to form a Y. Next, bend your elbows and pull them back so your arms form a goalpost. Next, keeping your upper arms steady, straighten your arms to make a T. Finally, keeping your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades and gently push your arms back.

When should I worry about upper back pain between shoulder blades? ›

When should I worry about upper back pain between shoulder blades? Call your doctor immediately if you are experiencing severe upper back pain between the shoulder blades, as it may be signs of a serious medical condition, such as lung disease, heart disease, blood vessel disease, or gallstones.

What does a pinched nerve in upper back feel like? ›

Pinched nerve signs and symptoms include: Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve. Sharp, aching or burning pain, which may radiate outward. Tingling, pins and needles sensations (paresthesia)

What are the 3 simple exercises for back pain? ›

3 simple exercises to help correct lower back pain
  • Knee to Chest. Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. ...
  • Bird Dog. From the all fours position, lift and extend your right arm and left leg. ...
  • Glute Bridges. Lye on your back with knees bent and only heals touching the floor.

What is the 30 second stretch that relieves back pain? ›

While keeping your left foot flat on the floor, gently pull your right knee to your chest until you feel a slight stretch in your lower back. Hold your right knee against your chest for 30–60 seconds, making sure to relax your legs, hips, and lower back.

Will my upper back pain ever go away? ›

Most cases of upper back pain are temporary and resolve on their own with rest, ice, and gentle stretching. If your upper back pain is severe and limits your activities, gets worse over time, or does not improve within a few days of at-home care, consider speaking with a doctor.

Can stretching make upper back pain worse? ›

While stretching is highly recommended before physical activity and even as a way to release tight muscles in the morning, it may not be wise when suffering with current back pain. It can actually aggravate the muscles that are already inflamed due to injury.

What triggers upper back pain? ›

The common causes of upper back pain stem from inflammation and micro-tears in the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the upper back or from arthritis, herniated disks, vertebral stenosis, or misalignments in the thoracic or cervical spine.

Why my upper back is hurting? ›

Pain in the upper back is usually the result of poor posture, muscle overuse, an injury, or a herniated disk. Other possible causes include lung cancer, osteoarthritis, and a spinal infection. The upper back is the area between the base of the neck and the bottom of the ribcage.

Should I put heat on upper back pain? ›

Heat or ice for upper back pain

Healthline suggests that you, “use a cold pack and anti-inflammatory pain relief for the first three days after the pain starts. After that, alternate applying heat and cold to your injury.”

Is it OK to massage upper back pain? ›

Muscle tension can result in pain if not treated. An upper back massage gets deep into the muscle tissues and helps the muscle relax and therefore relieve tension. By relieving tension, pain in the upper back is significantly reduced. Increased healing is a benefit gained from having an upper back massage.

What type of massage is best for upper back pain? ›

Deep Tissue Massage

This type of massage therapy involves the application of hard pressure into the sore muscles, pressing deeply through the muscles to the bone as possible. It allows the release of scar tissue and helps relax tightly knotted muscles that cause chronic neck and upper back pain.

What are 3 exercises that strengthen your back? ›

15 best back exercises
  • Resistance band pull-apart. Why it's on the list: A great exercise to kick off your back workout, the resistance band pull-apart is simple but effective. ...
  • Lat pulldown. ...
  • Back extension. ...
  • Suspended row. ...
  • Wood chop. ...
  • Good morning. ...
  • Quadruped single-arm dumbbell row. ...
  • Wide dumbbell bent-over row.

How can you strengthen your upper back and relieve the pain? ›

Wall push-up
  1. Stand against a wall with your feet about 30 to 60 centimetres back from the wall. If you feel any pain when you do this exercise, stand closer to the wall.
  2. Place your hands on the wall slightly wider apart than your shoulders, and lean forward.
  3. Gently lean your body toward the wall. ...
  4. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

What is the best treatment for a pinched nerve in the upper back? ›

The most frequently recommended treatment for a pinched nerve is rest for the affected area. Your doctor will ask you to stop any activities that cause or aggravate the compression. Depending on the location of the pinched nerve, you may need a splint, collar or brace to immobilize the area.

How can you tell the difference between muscle pain and nerve pain? ›

Nerve pain is stabbing, tingling, and sharp while muscle pain is dull and steady or crampy and spasmodic.

What surgery is done for pinched nerve in upper back? ›

Endoscopic Foraminoplasty. Endoscopic foraminoplasty is the least invasive spinal surgeries available to treat a pinched nerve in the neck or back that decompresses and frees a nerve. Foraminoplasty is a surgical procedure that enlarges the surrounding area of the spinal bone located near a pinched nerve.

How do you get instant relief from shoulder blade pain? ›

Easy remedies at home
  1. Anti-inflammatory medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) help to relieve pain and lower inflammation. ...
  2. Cold compress. Cold compresses can help reduce swelling in the shoulder. ...
  3. Compression. ...
  4. Heat therapy. ...
  5. Muscle relaxants. ...
  6. Pain medication. ...
  7. Rest and activity modification.

How do you unblock your shoulder blades? ›

Shoulder blade squeeze
  1. Sit or stand up tall with your arms at your sides.
  2. Keep your shoulders relaxed, not shrugged.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 6 seconds, then relax.
  4. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

What is the simple exercise for back pain? ›

  • Lie on your back with both legs bent.
  • Gently pull one knee towards your chest.
  • Hold 2 to 3 seconds. Do this 10 to 15 times, alternating legs.
  • Repeat 2 to 3 times a day, or anytime you feel pain.

What are the four basic exercise for the back muscles? ›

Focus on achieving a full range of motion before you go heavy.
  • Exercise One: Dumbbell Rows.
  • Exercise Two: Pull Up Holds.
  • Exercise Three: Dumbbell Shoulder Press.
  • Exercise Four: Deadlifts.
Oct 25, 2017

How do you release all back pain? ›

Taking care of your back at home
  1. Stop normal physical activity for only the first few days. ...
  2. Apply heat or ice to the painful area. ...
  3. Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  4. Sleep in a curled-up, fetal position with a pillow between your legs.
Jul 25, 2022

What are the 7 basic movements? ›

There are seven basic movements the human body can perform and all other exercises are merely variations of these seven: Pull, Push, Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Rotation and Gait. When performing all of these movements, you will be able to stimulate all of the major muscle groups in your body.

What are 3 stretches for your back? ›

7 Lower Back Stretches to Reduce Pain and Build Strength
  • Tips.
  • Child's Pose.
  • Knee-to-chest.
  • Piriformis stretch.
  • Seated spinal twist.
  • Pelvic tilt.
  • Cat-Cow.
  • Sphinx stretch.

What causes a tight upper back? ›

Pain in the upper back is usually the result of poor posture, muscle overuse, an injury, or a herniated disk. Other possible causes include lung cancer, osteoarthritis, and a spinal infection. The upper back is the area between the base of the neck and the bottom of the ribcage.

What causes upper back pain in females? ›

Many things can cause upper and middle back pain. These include poor posture; overuse or injury of the muscles, ligaments, or discs that support the spine; a vertebra fracture; pressure on the spinal nerves from problems such as a herniated disc; and osteoarthritis.

When is upper back pain serious? ›

See a doctor if the upper back pain is: Sharp, rather than dull: Could be a sign of a torn muscle or ligament, or a problem with an internal organ in the back or side. Radiating to the buttocks or legs: may be a sign of nerve compression or damage.


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