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Top 5 Stretches to Relieve Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain is a common experience that affects everyone differently. It can feel anywhere from a dull ache to a burning pain that worsens with age. As we engage in our day to day activities, we inadvertently put a lot of stress on key body parts, especially the spine, which results in joint and muscle pain. 

The common causes of upper back pain include: 

  • Poor posture 
  • Improper way of doing lifting
  • Prolonged sitting or standing 
  • Sports-related injuries

Allowing time for stretching and strengthening activities is a proven way to combat a stiff upper back.

The following are some of the best stretches to relieve upper back pain that you can incorporate into your daily routine: 

Cat-Cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch is an excellent way to self-mobilize the upper back. It’s a two-stretches-in-one exercise that gently mobilizes each vertebra so that the bones down to the littlest ones will move the way they’re supposed to, for use in everyday activities. You can perform this stretch on an exercise mat or a carpeted floor. 

To perform, start on your hands and knees. Align the wrists underneath your shoulders and the knees underneath your hips. Think of the spine as a straight line connecting your shoulders and hips. Take the position of a neutral spine by visualizing the line to extend forward up to the crown of the head and the back of the tailbone. Keep your neck long by looking down and out.

Inhale and Arch for Cow Pose

Curl your toes under and tilt your pelvis back to make your tailbone stick up. Keep those abdominal muscles hugging your spine by drawing your navel in. Slowly look upwards toward the ceiling, taking care to avoid cranking your neck. 

Exhale and Round for Cat Pose

Release the top of your feet to the floor. Then, tip the pelvis forward while tucking your tailbone. (This action will cause your spine to move up as it naturally rounds.)

Afterward, draw your navel toward your spine as you drop your head and look to your navel. 

Repeat the cat-cow stretch on each inhale and exhale. Continue for 5 to 10 times, moving the entire spine. Go back to the neutral spine position after the last exhale.  

Side-Lying Thoracic Rotation

This exercise is meant to improve mobility in your thoracic spine, ensuring health and stability in both the shoulder girdle and lumbar spine. 

Begin by lying on your side, then cross one leg over the other. After, bend the upper leg to 90 degrees while extending both arms at your side, away from the body. 

Start the movement by looking back over the shoulder and rotating your top arm going toward your backside. Gently position that arm going toward the floor. Hold this position momentarily before going back to the starting position. 

Do your desired number of repetitions on one side up to 10 times and repeat all the above steps on the other side. All those reps count as one set. 

Child’s Pose with Rotation

This exercise targets multiple back muscles while targeting the hips and ankles at the same time.  

To begin, do a table pose on all fours. Place your hands beneath your shoulders and knees right below the hips. Then, slowly lower your hips forward in the direction of the ground with arms outstretched in front. Stretch those arms in a way that your palms also rest on the floor. Remain in this position for a few seconds as you feel your upper back stretched. 

Bring both hands to one side in front of you for an added stretch. This will lengthen the muscles and lats of your body on the opposite side. Repeat this step by reaching to the other side once you feel a good stretch. Hold each pose for 30 seconds, 

Note that you can try this exercise while seated on a folded blanket or pillow if you feel pain in your knees or hips. Alternatively, you can try performing this stretch using a foam roller under your palms for added comfort.

Thoracic Extension over Foam Roller/Chair

Through this exercise, you can shift your upper back’s curve by moving your body in the opposite direction. To begin, find a foam roller or use the back of a chair to perform this relieving stretch.  

If you’re using a foam roller, place the foam roller in a perpendicular position to your torso. Sit in front of the foam roller with your hands behind your head. Interlock your fingers and support the weight of your head without pulling it. 

Gently lean backward so that your upper back is reaching over the foam roller. Then, extend your shoulders towards the floor while using the foam roller as upper back support. Proceed by lifting the hips to roll the upper back muscles up and down. You can also move the foam roller up by an inch after each stretch. Lean backward over the roller until a relieving stretch is felt. 

Repeat these steps a few times, taking care not to force your body into discomfort. Keep in mind that this stretch can get pretty intense, so it’s advisable to perform with small movements while taking care not to spend more than a couple of minutes in one position.

Doorway Pectoral Stretch

Upper back pain is often due to improper posture, which is made worse by tight chest muscles. The doorway stretch is a simple yet effective way to loosen up those chest muscles and encourage the body to observe a healthy posture. 

Using the walls of a standard doorway, stretch out your pectoral muscles by bringing each forearm up against one side. Then, stretch out the chest by slowly leaning forward through the door opening while keeping the arms on one side. Hold this position for 30 seconds. 

Take care not to lean too much into the frame to keep yourself from incurring any injuries. Make sure to stop at once when you feel the stretch in your chest and shoulders. 

Key TakeAway

Minor back pain can be treated at home with regular stretching and strengthening techniques.

However, if the pain persists and gets worse with home treatment, the accompanying symptoms is likely tied to an underlying condition.

In this case, the best course of action is to consult with a doctor or healthcare provider.

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