Upper back pain exercises


Upper Back Pain Center

Written by Stewart G. Eidelson, MD

Pain in the upper and/or mid back is less common than lower back or neck pain. The upper back is the region below the cervical spine (neck) and above the low back (lumbar spine). The upper back is called the thoracic spine, and it is the most stable part of the spine. The range of motion in the upper back is limited because of the spine’s attachments to the ribs (rib cage).
Upper back pain is usually caused by soft tissue injuries, such as sprains or strains, muscle tension caused by poor posture, or looking downward for long time periods. Photo Source:123RF.com.

Upper back pain is usually caused by soft tissue injuries, such as sprains or strains, muscle tension caused by poor posture, or looking downward for long time periods (eg, texting, cell phone use).

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Tightness
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasm
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Headache

Since the vertebral bodies of the thoracic spine attach to the ribs, some patients experience pain when taking a deep breath, coughing or sneezing.

What causes or contributes to upper back pain?

An episode of upper back pain can be triggered by different movements and activities, including:

  • Twisting
  • Excessive bending
  • Whiplash or other neck injury
  • Lifting improperly
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Overuse, repetitive movements
  • Contact sports
  • Carrying too heavy a load
  • Wearing an overloaded backpack
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight

Poor posture in general, or working at the computer for a long time without taking a break to walk around and stretch can contribute to upper back. Both muscle fatigue and muscle strain, which often result from poor posture, can trigger the pain.

Is upper back pain serious? What can I do about it?

In most cases, upper back pain is not a cause for worry; however, it can be uncomfortable, painful, and inconvenient. Furthermore, if pain develops suddenly and is severe—such as from an injury (eg, fall)—and, certainly if pain and symptoms (eg, weakness) progressively worsen you should seek medical attention.

In general, the following home treatments may help relieve upper back pain.

  • Short-term rest
  • Gentle stretches
  • Over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen, (Motrin®), naproxen sodium (Aleve®), or acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Take with food, and do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Ice (to reduce pain and swelling). Use a commercially available cold pack or fill a plastic bag with ice and seal it; then wrap it in a towel. Apply to the painful area for 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours for the first 2 to 3 days.
  • Heat (after the first 72 hours). After applying moist heat, gently stretch the muscles to improve mobility and relieve stiffness.

Your doctor may prescribe medications, such as a muscle relaxant or perform trigger point injections to help break up muscle spasms. He/ she may also recommend physical therapy to increase flexibility, mobility and relieve pain. Other therapies your doctor may suggest include acupuncture and chiropractic care.

Most cases of upper back pain resolve in 1 to 2 weeks without further treatment. Resume your normal activities gradually, when you can perform them without pain. Don’t rush things, though: you could interfere with your recovery and risk re-injury.

As always, sudden or severe pain should be addressed immediately.

Updated on: 12/24/19

Summit Medical Group Web Site

You may do these exercises right away.

  • Pectoralis stretch: Stand in an open doorway or corner with both hands slightly above your head on the door frame or wall. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders. Hold 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
  • Thoracic extension: Sit in a chair and clasp both arms behind your head. Gently arch backward and look up toward the ceiling. Repeat 10 times. Do this several times each day.
  • Arm slide on wall: Sit or stand with your back against a wall and your elbows and wrists against the wall. Slowly slide your arms upward as high as you can while keeping your elbows and wrists against the wall. Do 2 sets of 8 to 12.
  • Scapular squeeze: While sitting or standing with your arms by your sides, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds. Do 2 sets of 15.
  • Mid-trap exercise: Lie on your stomach on a firm surface and place a folded pillow underneath your chest. Place your arms out straight to your sides with your elbows straight and thumbs toward the ceiling. Slowly raise your arms toward the ceiling as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Lower slowly. Do 3 sets of 15. As the exercise gets easier to do, hold soup cans or small weights in your hands.
  • Thoracic stretch: Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Hold your mid-thighs with your hands. Curl you head and neck toward your belly button. Hold for a count of 15. Repeat 3 times.
  • Quadruped arm and leg raise: Get down on your hands and knees. Pull in your belly button and tighten your abdominal muscles to stiffen your spine. While keeping your abdominals tight, raise one arm and the opposite leg away from you. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Lower your arm and leg slowly and change sides. Do this 10 times on each side.
  • Rowing exercise: Close middle of elastic tubing in a door or wrap tubing around an immovable object. Hold 1 end in each hand. Sit in a chair, bend your arms 90 degrees, and hold one end of the tubing in each hand. Keep your forearms vertical and your elbows at shoulder level and bent 90 degrees. Pull backward on the band and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Do 2 sets of 15.

16 Simple Stretches to Soothe Tight Shoulders

1. Chin retractions

Go ahead, embrace your double chin. This move is especially great for people who hold their neck in the same position for long periods of time (such as staring at a computer for eight hours a day).

Move your chin forward, then slowly pull it back by slightly tucking it in toward your throat. Try to keep your chin parallel to the floor and straight (not tipping it up or down). Repeat hourly up to 10 times.

2. Neck rolls

Tilt your head to the right and slowly roll it down (chin to chest) and to the left (making a U shape). Then roll it to the right. Repeat 5 times in each direction. Only roll your head and neck sideways and forward — not to the back, since doing so increases the pressure on your cervical spine.

3. Shoulder rolls

Starting in a position of proper alignment, roll your shoulders up, then back, then down in a fluid motion. Repeat this movement about 10 times, and then reverse it, rolling forward about 10 times.

4. Neck stretches

Bend your right ear to your right shoulder. Place right hand over left temple and add a little extra pressure by gently pulling your head to the right.

Your left hand can rest at your side or reach behind your back, or you can hold the bottom of a chair to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

5. Cow Face Pose

Reach your right arm straight up, bend your elbow, and let your hand fall behind your head. Move your left arm behind your back and bend the arm, letting the back of your left hand rest against your right shoulder blade (or as close to it as possible).

Reach to grab your right fingertips with your left hand. Repeat on the other side.

Make it easier: If you can’t reach the fingertips of the opposite hand, use a towel to assist, creating a bit of tension by gently pulling on the towel in opposite directions.

6. Cross-body arm stretch

Cross your straight right arm across your chest. Use your left hand to gently pull the right upper arm closer to your body. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat on the other side.

7. Shoulder rotation (“goal post” arms)

With your back to a wall, allow your shoulder blades to rest in a neutral position and bring both elbows out to 90 degrees (so the sides of your biceps are in contact with the wall).

Without moving your elbows, turn your right arm upward, so the back of your right hand touches the wall, and your left arm downward, so your left palm touches the wall (or they come as close as possible).

Slowly switch (right arm up, left arm down; then left arm up, right arm down) for about 30 seconds, trying to keep your arms at 90 degrees throughout.

8. Standing wall stretch

Place both hands on a wall so they form a 90-degree angle to your body. Walk your feet back until your arms are straight and bow, hinging forward at the hips. (Don’t push on the wall, and don’t allow your arms to raise up too high, to avoid a shoulder impingement.)

Keep your shoulder blades set back and avoid scrunching your shoulders around your neck.

9. Angular neck stretch

Turn your head 45 degrees to the right and look down in the direction of your armpit. Reach your right hand over the top and back of your head, with your elbow pointing in the direction of the armpit.

Add a little extra pressure by gently pulling your face down toward your armpit. Your left hand can rest at your side or reach behind your back, or you can hold the bottom of a chair to increase the stretch. Repeat the exercise up to 3 times on each side.

10. T, Y, and I movements

With your back to a wall, stand with your palms facing out. Slowly bring your arms up to make a T shape, keeping your arms and back in contact with the wall.

Continue to bring your arms up to make a Y shape, then an I shape, touching your thumbs overhead. Focus on keeping your shoulder blades flat against the wall (not allowing them to stick out or wing).

11. Low-back hand clasp

Bring your hands behind your back, with your thumbs pointing down, and clasp your hands, touching palm to palm. Your hands should be about even with your low back. Slightly arch your upper back, opening your chest and allowing your shoulder blades to gently come together.

Hold for 10 seconds, then reverse the clasp (if your left thumb was on the outside of your clasp, switch so that your right thumb is on the outside).

12. Arm circles

Standing perpendicular to a wall, make big, slow circles with one arm. Get as close to the wall as you can (coming into contact with it if possible). Repeat 10 times in each direction before turning the other way to rotate the opposite arm.

Maintain good posture throughout, especially when moving forward. Do not slouch or round your back forward.

13. Reverse prayer pose

Bring both your hands behind your back and allow your palms to come together in prayer position, feeling your shoulder blades open and keeping your back straight.

To make this stretch easier, bring your hands behind your back and hold left elbow with right hand and right elbow with left hand.

14. Thread the needle

Start on all fours. Lift your left hand off the floor and “thread” it through the space between your right arm and right leg, letting the back of your left hand and arm slide along the floor. Allow the upper body (thoracic spine) to naturally rotate toward the right, but keep your hips level.

Stop extending your arm when your hips begin to open to the right. (This may mean less range of motion than you could have if you continued to open your hips.)

15. Sphinx pose with arm extension

Lie facedown on the floor, with arms bent at your sides and palms on the floor about even with your chest. Keep your fingertips facing forward. Peel your chest up, leaving your hands in the same position and feeling an arch in the upper back only (no pressure on the low back).

Keep your elbows squeezed close to the sides of your body. Raise your right hand off the floor and straighten your right arm, bringing bicep in line with ear if possible. Focus on not letting your shoulder raise up and not crunching your neck.

Hold for about 5 seconds. Lower your right arm and repeat on the other side.

16. Sideline thoracic rotational stretch

Lie on your right side with your legs bent comfortably, your spine neutral, and your right arm straight and perpendicular to your body. With left arm on top of right arm, push your left arm slightly forward, lift it straight up, and rotate it back, making a large arch in the air.

Let your left arm fall as far as possible to the left side, without letting your hips move in the direction of your arm. Allow your nose and gaze to follow your left arm, slowly turning your neck to the left.

Move slowly, holding for a few seconds at the end of the stretch before returning to the starting position. Repeat 10 times. Switch to the other side.

5 Upper Back Stretches For Back and Neck Pain

When most people think of stretching, their mind goes straight to the upper body or legs. The back, particularly the upper back, tends to get left out—but it shouldn’t. This area takes on a lot of the tension that comes from our everyday movements. It supports the movement of your upper body, including your neck and arms. So, it’s best to show it some regular TLC.

Fortunately, there are a number of upper back stretches that can help ease any tightness or stiffness. We spoke with April Oury, P.T. M.S., president of Body Gears Physical Therapy, to break down why targeting this area is paramount and how to properly perform upper back stretches. Keep reading for relief.

Why It’s Important

“Upper backs are stiffer, to begin with,” Oury says. She explains that this is due to the larger vertebrae with longer spinous processes and ribs on every level on each side. Meaning, because there’s so much anatomy going on in this one area, it gets tight easily. “Mobility exercises help improve fluidity and circulation there,” they note.

This is crucial when it comes to working out because the upper back and shoulders are involved in nearly every form of exercise. If we forgo shoulder and upper back stretches, we risk pain, strains, and injuries that could negatively affect our workouts going forward. So, Oury recommends pre-workout warm-ups that loosen up your body and prepare your upper back for any workouts and stretches ahead.

“If we forgo shoulder and upper back stretches, we risk pain, strains, and injuries that could negatively affect our workouts going forward.”

“Without , it’s like leaving the lights dim. The lights might turn on, but there’s so much more potential for brightness,” she explains. “To see the difference for yourself, sit as slouched as you can and try lifting your arms overhead. Now sit up nice and tall, and try again. Notice a difference? For some people, there might be a few specific segments of their upper back that contribute to freely moving the arms overhead. A is designed to get those specific segments moving, allowing your stretches and workouts to be more effective.”

It helps you breathe.

Keeping your upper back in working condition doesn’t only have an impact on your workouts. It also heavily influences your daily life. “Something that every single person does all day every day is breathing. The expansion of our ribs is critical for getting enough air into our lungs, especially during exercise,” Oury says. “The upper ribs move with every breath relative to each other and at their connections to both the thoracic spine and sternum. Restoring motion to your upper back not only lets you move and find comfortable postures but ensures your tissues get enough oxygen.”

In short, including upper back stretches in your routines (or solely focusing on them often) helps you maintain good, comfortable posture and ensures you’re able to breathe fully.

If you need guided stretching classes, check out Aaptiv. Our trainers will walk you through stretches to help relieve your muscle pain.

Upper Back Stretches

With the above in mind, we asked Oury to share five upper back stretches and poses. Incorporate them into your pre- and post-workout stretching routines when using your favorite stretching app, practice them in your spare time, or put them together to create a short upper-back-focused routine.

Child’s Pose

Is there anything child’s pose isn’t good for? Short answer: No. From loosening your lower back to aiding in digestion, this yoga pose is a mainstay. It’s also a great upper back stretch. To perform, start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Spread your knees wide apart but keep your big toes together. Sit up straight (avoid overarching or slumping forward) to lengthen your spine. From here, hinge at the hips and bow forward, placing your torso between your legs. Extend your arms out in front of you, palms flat against the ground. This position stretches out the muscles all along your back, ankles, thighs, hips, and neck.

Neck Rotations and Tilts

Your upper trapezius is the muscle that extends from the base of your skull to your upper spine. This area can become especially tense if you look at a computer or phone for extended periods of time (guilty). To ease any tension that’s there, perform some neck stretches. Begin by looking straight ahead with your shoulders relaxed and arms at your sides. Now, tilt your chin down so that you’re looking at the bottom of your shirt. Hold your gaze for ten to 20 seconds, and then tilt your head back to look at the ceiling. Switching between the two will stretch and contract your levator scapulae (more muscles between your neck and back).

For another neck-to-upper-back stretch, start in the same position as the previous exercise. From there, tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder. Make sure your chin isn’t dropping toward your shoulder and your shoulder isn’t raising. Hold this stretch for ten to 20 seconds before switching to the opposite side. This targets your upper trapezius by flexing your neck.

Butterfly Wings

For a stretch that directly targets your entire upper back, try performing butterfly wings. Place your palms face down on your shoulders (left palm on left shoulder and right palm on right shoulder). Avoid pushing down and applying pressure to your shoulders and neck—this will actually cause pain or make preexisting pain worse. Keeping your hands in place, pull your elbows back as if you were trying to touch them together until you feel a deep stretch throughout your upper back. Hold for five to ten seconds, and then pull your elbows forward and touch them together in front of your body. Hold for another five to ten seconds before pulling back again. This motion not only stretches your upper back (by pulling backward) but contracts it as well (by pulling forward), which can help relieve pain.

Chair Rotation

Chair stretches are key if you’re experiencing upper-back pain while working at a desk or sitting for extended periods of time. One chair stretch you can do anywhere to release tightness is a chair rotation. Sit forward at the edge of your chair (not so far that you lose balance). Place both hands on the back of your head, elbows pointing outward, and sit up straight. Your shoulders should be directly over your hips and your feet planted on the ground. Once you’re in starting position, slowly twist your torso to one side until your upper body is facing it completely. Your hips should still be facing forward. Hold for five to ten seconds. Untwist until you’re facing forward, and repeat on the other side.

Standing Arm Slides

This upper back stretch also targets your shoulders, improving your flexibility and range of motion. To perform, stand against a wall with your ankles, butt, shoulders, elbows, and wrists pressed against it (your palms should be facing outward). Slowly slide your arms out to your sides and up as far as you can, keeping your elbows and wrists flat against the wall. Once you’re as high as you can go, hold for five seconds and slowly lower back to starting position. Repeat ten times.

For more stretching routines just like this, our trainers have workouts for you in the Aaptiv app.

This story was put together with additional help from Julia Melanson, D.P.T., of Body Gears Physical Therapy.

Let’s face it: Our bodies’ design and the way we use them aren’t always compatible.

Our constant computer and phone use means that your head and eyes tend to be tilted downwards more than you want to admit, and definitely more than you probably realize. This forward, downward head position (aka “tech neck”) can take a serious toll on your body, leading to neck stiffness, upper and lower back pain, and even headaches.

Muscles of the upper back and neck can become tight and weak with sustained positions, limiting their strength potential and extensibility, and reinforcing bad postural habits. All that device usage leads to forward, rounded shoulders and the head resting far out in front of the shoulders instead of being stacked vertically on top of the torso. These positions, though comfortable in the short term, can actually change the alignment and health of your spine and often lead to aches and pains that become larger, more debilitating problems later on.

TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller $59.99

The best way to combat a stiff upper back is to make time for the right stretching and strengthening routine. If you’re experiencing a aches or pains in the upper back, neck or shoulders, your posture is probably to blame.

Try incorporating these stretches to unwind and open up your chest, back, and shoulders before a small ache or pain becomes a bigger problem. For some of these stretches, you’ll need a foam roller. If you don’t have one, we like this one from TriggerPoint, or any of these options.

Cat-cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch is actually two stretches in one, and a great way to self-mobilize your thoracic spine (the upper part of your back). By moving through these two poses, you can gently mobilize each vertebra so that the small bones move the way they are supposed to for daily activities and do not become too rigid and stiff.

To perform: Begin in quadruped (hands and knees) with knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Inhale as you move your sit bones up towards the ceiling, arching the back and pressing the chest towards the floor as you lift the head up. Relaxing the shoulder blades behind you. From there, inhale as you move from this “cow” position to an angry “cat” position, rounding out your back and pushing shoulder blades away from you as your spine forms a “C” curve in the opposite direction. Go through this cycle 10 times.

Side-lying Thoracic Rotation

One of the upper back movements required for healthy mobility is rotation. With so much of life happening in an anterior-posterior or sagittal plane, the ability to twist and rotate can become limited. This stretch is a great way to improve rotation in your spine.

Begin by lying on your left side with knees bent and arms straight out in front of you, palms touching. Gently lift your right hand straight up off of the left hand, opening up the arm like it’s a book or door while following the top hand with your head and eyes until your right hand is on the other side of your body, palm up, with your head and eyes turned towards the right. Hold this stretch for a few breaths before returning to the starting position with palms facing each other. Repeat up to 10 times on each side.

Child’s Pose with Rotation

Child’s pose stretches multiple muscles in the back, while also targeting the hips and even ankles.

To perform, begin on your hands and knees. Spread your knees apart while keeping your toes touching, then gently lower your hips forward towards the ground with arms outstretched in front of you. Keep your arms extended forward with palms down on the floor, lengthening the lower back. Hold this pose for several breaths.

For an added stretch, bring both hands to one side in front of you, lengthening the lats and muscles of the opposite side of your body. Repeat by reaching to the other side after a good stretch is felt. Hold each of these poses up to 30 seconds. Note: If you have pain in your knees or hips, try performing this pose while seated on a pillow or folded blanket, or try using a foam roller under your palms to make the stretch more comfortable.

Thoracic Extension Over Foam Roller/Chair

Reverse the curve of your upper back by moving your body in the opposite direction. Find a foam roller or use the back of a chair to perform this instantly relieving stretch. If using a foam roller, place the foam roller perpendicular to your torso. Sit in front of the foam roller, and gently hammock the head with your hands, interlocking the fingers and supporting the weight of your head without pulling it.

Lean backwards so that your upper back is reaching backwards over the foam roller. Gently allow your shoulders to reach towards the floor while the foam roller supports your upper back. Carefully lift the hips to roll up and down the muscles of the upper back or move the foam roller up and inch after each stretch, leaning backwards over the roller until a gentle stretch is felt. Repeat several times, without forcing your body into discomfort. This stretch can be very intense, so start with small movement and don’t spend more than a couple minutes in this position.

Pec Stretches on Foam Roller

Tight pecs can contribute to rounded shoulders and a tight upper back.

Stretch the muscles by lying on a foam roller with arms outstretched like the letter T or W. Hold for about 30 seconds in each position.

Doorway Stretch

If you can’t find a foam roller, try using the walls of a standard doorway to stretch out the pecs.

Bring each forearm up against one side of the doorway. Gently lean forward through the doorway keeping the arms on one side to stretch out the chest. Hold for 30 seconds.

Sphinx Pose

Open up the chest and back by lying on the floor and propping yourself up on your forearms.

As you inhale, gently press your forearms into the floor and lift the head and chest up. Draw your shoulders blades down and back and lengthen your tailbone. Hold for 30 seconds.

Dr. Rachel Tavel, PT, DPT, CSCS Dr Rachel Tavel, PT, DPT, CSCS is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, health and fitness writer, and runner who works as a PT at Shift Wellness in New York City.

Best Stretches For Upper Back Pain Shaheen Naser Hyderabd040-395603080 January 10, 2020

Did you bend to pick something up and felt a sharp pain in your upper back? Does doing even simple things like lifting a cup worsen the pain? While upper back pain is not as common as lower back pain, it not any less painful.

The good news is that there are a series of stretches that can help alleviate upper back pain. Would you like to know more about these stretches? Keep reading to find out.

Table Of Contents

  • What Causes Upper Back Pain?
  • Risk Factors
  • Signs And Symptoms
  • Best Stretches To Get Rid Of Upper Back Pain
  • Prevention Tips

What Causes Upper Back Pain?

A variety of factors can trigger back pain, like:

  • Strain or injury to the back muscles due to overuse
  • Poor posture
  • A pinched nerve in the spine or close to your ribs
  • Fractured backbone
  • Damaged or displaced spinal disc (Herniated disc)
  • Osteoarthritis, which causes the cartilage protecting your bones to wear down
  • A chronic pain disorder called myofascial pain syndrome that is caused by repetitive contraction of the muscles.
  • Issues with the gallbladder, such as gallstones
  • Pain between the shoulder blades

Let us now look at the factors that put an individual at a higher risk of developing upper back pain.

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Risk Factors

The risk factors for upper back pain include:

  • Advancing age
  • Weak muscles
  • Obesity
  • Underlying medical conditions like sciatica, arthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, or even cancer
  • Smoking

The sensation of pain in the upper back could vary from one person to another. Here are some common symptoms associated with upper back pain.

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Signs And Symptoms

The pain that occurs is often described in the following terms:

  • Stiffness
  • Aching
  • Sharp
  • Burning
  • Crampy

Upper back pain can result from mild to severe factors. It could be the result of something as minute as the overuse of your back muscles to something as serious as cancer.

Hence, it is best to get yourself checked by a medical professional if you are suffering from severe and chronic back pain. However, if any intense exercise or muscle strain has been causing the upper back pain, here are a few back stretches (both exercises well as yoga poses) that may help.

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Best Stretches To Get Rid Of Upper Back Pain

  1. Pectoralis Stretch (Standing Wall Stretch)
  2. Thoracic Extension
  3. Arm Slide On Wall (Shoulder Rotation)
  4. Scapular Squeeze
  5. Mid-Trap Exercise – Prone Shoulder Horizontal Abduction
  6. Thoracic Stretch – Rolling Spine
  7. Quadruped Arm And Leg Raise
  8. Rowing Exercise
  9. Cobra Pose
  10. Downward Dog Pose
  11. Postural Correction
  12. Thread The Needle

Upper Back Strengthening Stretches For Upper Back Pain

1. Pectoralis Stretch (Standing Wall Stretch)

What You Have To Do
  1. Stand at an arm’s length from a wall.
  2. Press your palms against the wall at shoulder height.
  3. Lean towards the wall with your upper body, but without moving your palms.
  4. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds.
Why This Works

This helps in relaxing tense shoulder and back muscles.


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2. Thoracic Extension

  1. Kneel in front of a bench.
  2. Place your elbows on the bench such that they are shoulder-width apart.
  3. Kneel far enough from the bench so that you have ample space to drop your chest through the arms and extend your spine.
  4. With your knees firmly planted on the ground, press your chest towards the ground with your elbows bearing the weight.
  5. Extend your spine as much as possible.
  6. Hold the position for 5-10 seconds.
  7. Go back to the initial position.

Thoracic extension exercises can help stretch the muscles of your back, thereby relaxing and strengthening it.

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3. Arm Slide On Wall (Shoulder Rotation)

  1. Stand against a wall with your glutes, shoulders, and head touching it.
  2. Put your hands out to your sides, touching the wall at 90 degrees.
  3. Draw in your abdominal muscles towards your spine.
  4. Lift your arms overhead while your shoulder blades and arms are planted to the wall.
  5. Don’t shrug or stoop your shoulders or allow your lower back to arch.
  6. Hold this position for about 5 seconds and then return to the initial position.

This stretch works great for your biceps, shoulders, and upper back. It can help alleviate the pain caused by muscle strains.

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4. Scapular Squeeze

  1. Stand tall with your back straight.
  2. Pull your shoulder blades towards your back but slightly lower such that your elbows are pulled back and inward.
  3. Hold the position for about 5 seconds.
  4. Return to the initial position.
  5. If you go to a gym, you may try out the seated cable rows and barbell rows as they serve the same purpose.

Scapular squeeze aims at stretching your scapulae that include muscles as well as bones. This stretch increases the strength and flexibility of the scapulae.

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5. Mid-Trap Exercise – Prone Shoulder Horizontal Abduction

  1. Lie flat on your front on an elevated surface, such as a single bed.
  2. Allow your arms to rest on either side in a ‘T’.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades as you lift one of your arms to its maximum.
  4. Lower your arms and repeat.

Mid-trap exercises often concentrate on the middle trapezius muscles. They help in increasing the flexibility and strength of these muscles.

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6. Thoracic Stretch – Rolling Spine

  1. Lie down on a mat with your knees at right angles to the floor, and your palms flat on the mat.
  2. Raise your head and slowly pull your knees toward your abdomen.
  3. Rock back and forth slowly, such that you are rolling your spine, one vertebra at a time.
  4. Go back to the initial position and repeat.

Thoracic stretches, like the rolling spine, help in stretching your thoracic area. This helps relieve tight and painful muscles.

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7. Quadruped Arm And Leg Raise

  1. Sit on your hands and knees on a yoga or exercise mat.
  2. Your arms should be just below your shoulders, and your knees right below your hips.
  3. Extend one leg and the arm opposite to it such that it is aligned with your body.
  4. Return to the initial position and complete the repetitions.
  5. Repeat for the other leg and arm.

The quadruped arm and leg raise helps strengthen your core and gives proper alignment to your spine.

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8. Rowing Exercise

  1. Sit erect with your legs and arms straight out.
  2. Pull your elbows back downwards.
  3. Move your body back and forth so that you are leaning slightly back when you pull your arms towards the chest.
  4. You can also fully bend your knees to the “catch” position as you complete a full stroke.
  5. Move back to the initial position and repeat.
  6. You can also carry out this workout at a gym.

Rowing is great for your arms, legs, core, and back. It helps in strengthening your muscles and promoting flexibility.

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9. Cobra Pose

  1. Lie flat on your stomach on a yoga mat.
  2. Plant your toes on the floor, with your forehead resting on the ground.
  3. Keep your feet together, with your heels slightly touching each other.
  4. Place your hands under your shoulders, and keep your elbows close to your torso.
  5. Take a deep breath and slowly lift your chest, head, and abdomen while your navel is still touching the ground.
  6. Pull your torso back with your weight on your hands.
  7. Arch your back as far as possible and then tilt your head and look up.

Cobra Pose strengthens the entire back and shoulders.


15-30 seconds

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10. Downward Dog Pose

  1. Come onto the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Your knees should be right below your hips, and your arms a little in front of your shoulders.
  3. Spread your palms and toes on the ground.
  4. Take a deep breath and exhale as you lift your knees away from the floor.
  5. Initially, keep your knees half bent and lift the heels away from the floor.
  6. Now, lengthen your tailbone away from your pelvis and towards your pubis.
  7. Push your thighs back and forth along with your heels.
  8. Straighten your knees slightly but don’t lock them.
  9. Firm the thighs, arms, and your shoulder blades.

It helps in strengthening your bones and muscles and alleviates back pain.

1-3 minutes

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11. Posture Correction

  1. Kneel on your right knee and place your left foot on the floor.
  2. Place both your hands on the left thigh and bend your hip forward until you feel a stretch in your hip flexors.
  3. Contract your abdominal muscles and tilt your pelvis back slightly.
  4. Keep your chin parallel to the ground.
  5. Hold this pose for 20-30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
How This Works

This stretch helps in correcting your posture, which is one of the many triggers of upper back pain.

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12. Thread The Needle

  1. Place your elbows right under your shoulders, and your knees under your hips.
  2. Keep your head in a neutral position in the center.
  3. As you exhale, slide your right arm underneath the left arm as your palm faces upwards.
  4. Your right shoulder should touch the mat.
  5. As you rest your right ear and cheek against the mat, gaze towards your left.
  6. Your left elbow should be lifted, and your hips raised.
  7. Don’t press your entire weight on your head.
  8. Adjust your position such that you don’t strain your neck or shoulder.
  9. Allow your upper back to broaden and your lower back to relax.
  10. Hold this position for a minute and then release the pose.
  11. Repeat on the other side.

This pose can help relieve stiffness and pain in the upper back.

1-2 minutes

In addition to these stretches, here are a few tips that can help you deal with upper back pain as well as prevent its recurrence.

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Prevention Tips

  • Practice good posture, be it at work or at home.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Manage your stress levels.

A combination of these tips and stretches can alleviate your upper back pain to a certain extent.

However, if the pain persists, it is best to consult a doctor to find out the cause of the pain.

Did this post help address your concerns? Do you know of any other stretches that can help? Tell us in the comments section.

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Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

How should I sleep with upper back pain?

Certain sleeping positions can help improve back pain. Try sleeping with a pillow in between or underneath your legs for support. Those who sleep on their side can keep the pillow in between the knees and draw it towards your chest. You can also use therapeutic pillows that can keep your neck in the correct position.

Do massages help upper back pain?

Yes, certain therapeutic massages can alleviate symptoms of back pain and also improve your range of motion.

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Shaheen Naser

Shaheen holds a postgraduate degree in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology. She is a Geneticist with proficiency in Biotechnology, Immunology, Medical Genetics, Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Genetic Counseling. Her passion for writing and her educational background have assisted her substantially in writing quality content on topics related to health and wellness. In her free time, Shaheen loves to explore the world and the different flavors/cuisines it has to offer. Photography is another hobby she has developed of late.

1) Posture

It’s well-known that poor posture can lead to neck and upper back pain. Everyone has had that moment when they go to sit straight up and realize they’ve been sitting like the hunchback of Notre Dame for the past hour. To prevent this chronic slouching and forward head carriage state, one easy trick is to perform a quick exercise known as Bruegger’s postural position (seen below). All you have to do is sit with a neutral spine (not hyperextended), retract your head (give yourself a double chin), and slowly rotate rotate your palms to face forward while squeezing your shoulder blades together. The goal is to perform this exercise as micro-breaks, 2 sets of 30sec holds, as many times throughout the day as you can!

2) Sleep Position

If you notice that your pain is usually present upon waking up, then it can be the way you’re sleeping that’s causing your pain. Try these quick tips for a pain-free night’s rest!

1. Avoid sleeping on your stomach: When you sleep on your stomach your head is going to be rotated in one direction, causing one side of neck muscles to be contracted and the other side stretched for hours on end.

2. When sleeping on your side or back try to focus on maintaining a neutral spine (see pictures below)

-For side-sleepers, try placing a pillow between your knees as well as part of the pillow below your neck.

-For back-sleeping, try a small pillow below your knees as well as a pillow below the neck as well!

3) Inactivity

Inactivity is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Sedentary lifestyles cause a wide range of conditions, with upper back pain being one of them. Disuse can cause a loss of range-of-motion, stiffness, and weakened muscles. The phrase “use it or lose it” applies greatly to musculoskeletal health! To prevent this, make sure you maintain a daily exercise program. It doesn’t have to be a crazy total-body destroyer, but anything that’s going to move your joints through a full range of motion. These sample exercises below are great examples of simple and effective motions that can help prevent upper back pain. In order from left to right: cat-camel, prone extension, and child’s pose.

Want more? Check out our other blogs here!

Written by Dr. Brandon Buchla, DC, CSCS

Check us out at www.atpplusct.com

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