Best Exercises for Upper and Middle Back Pain

Pain in the upper and/or middle back may be very limited and interfere with daily activities. To help reduce this pain consider stretching and strengthening the muscles that support the thoracic spine (upper and middle back). Here are 5 common exercises to try.

Press-up exercise

This push-up or back extension targets the back extensor muscles that connect to the back of the spine.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders.
  2. Lift your upper body over your elbows while keeping your forearms and hips relaxed on the ground. Exhale and let your chest sink toward the ground. Your mid-back should feel a comfortable stretch.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds then slowly return to the floor.
  4. The goal is to complete 10 repetitions. Build up gradually to hold the position for 30 seconds.

A more advanced step 2 involves lifting your upper body over your hands (not your forearms) while still keeping your hips relaxed on the ground. In yoga this is called Cobra Pose.

Cat-cow pose

Cat-Cow Pose is a gentle stretch that can help relieve pain in the middle back.

  1. Get on all fours knees and hands on the floor. The back and neck should be in a neutral straight position.
  2. Slowly tighten your lower abs bring your back toward the ceiling and tuck your chin. You should feel a stretch in your spine.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Release and return to neutral position.
  5. Slowly lift the cephalothorax and tailbone toward the ceiling allowing the spine and abdomen to sink toward the ground. This should also create a comfortable stretch in your spine.
  6. Hold for 5 seconds.
  7. Release and return to neutral position.

Alternate between the two poses.

Opposite arm/leg raise

This exercise sometimes called Bird Dog in Yoga strengthens your abdominal and back muscles.

  1. Land on hands and knees. Keep your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees aligned directly under your hips keeping your spine straight.
  2. Extend slowly with one arm while straightening the other leg. Keep it straight and level.
  3. Hold for a few deep breaths then gently lower your arms and legs to the starting position.
  4. Repeat this exercise with the other arm/leg.
  5. If you have a tissue box in your lower back it should stay in place throughout the workout.

Try doing 10 to 15 repetitions on each side.

Corner stretch

Upper back pain is often caused by poor posture which can be exacerbated by tight chest muscles. Corner stretches are an easy and effective way to open up your chest muscles and encourage healthy posture.

  1. Face the corner of a room.
  2. Place your feet about 2 feet away from the corner.
  3. Rest your forearms on each wall with your elbows just below shoulder height.
  4. Lean forward until you feel a good stretch in your chest and shoulders. Your lower back should be neutral (as it is when standing).
  5. Hold the stretch 30 to 60 seconds.

If the corners are not available another option is to perform this stretch in the doorway by placing the forearm on the door frame (the side of the door frame). This stretch can be done 3 to 5 times throughout the day.

Prone cobra

The prone cobra is an advanced back stretch that targets your upper back muscles:

  1. Lie face down on the floor. You can rest your forehead on a rolled towel for comfort.
  2. Put your arms aside palms down on the floor
  3. Pinch your shoulder blades together and lift your hands off the floor. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears.
  4. Roll out the elbows in the palms and give the thumbs up.
  5. Gently lift your forehead about an inch off the towel keeping your eyes on the floor (don’t tilt your head back and look forward).
  6. Try to hold the position for 10 seconds.
  7. Aim to complete 10 repetitions.

For a little extra intensity you can also lift your legs off the ground.

Exercise should push your body (whether it’s a feeling of stretch or fatigue) but not make your symptoms worse when you’re resting. If any of these exercises increase or cause pain stop immediately and consult your healthcare provider. Physical therapist physical therapist or other qualified health A professional can create an exercise program specifically tailored to your symptoms and underlying condition.

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