Best Stretches For Back Pain, Terry Cralle, RN

Best Stretches For Back Pain: Relieving Stressed Back Muscles

It seems that everyone nowadays complains about upper back pain. Whether it is caused by muscle strain, injure, or bad posture, upper back pain has become a completely normal occurrence in our lives.

Some studies also report that more than ever upper back pain occurs in younger people now, even those who lead active lives and take care of their health.

This type of pain doesn’t leave anyone out; the hectic modern-day life simply takes a toll on our back. Just think about all the time you spend staring at your phone, working at the computer, having an overall bad posture, and not really being aware that your upper back is in a bad position or that it is hurting.

Best Stretches For Back Pain posture
Image Source: Terry Cralle, RN

Back pain simply becomes a part of life.

Well, it doesn’t have to be like that. That is why, in the following paragraphs, we’ve gathered the best stretch exercises that can help you ease or completely get rid of upper back pain.

You can try these exercises on your own, but we surely recommend you also discuss them with your doctor or a medical professional who is familiar with your case and medical history. So, let’s get started!

1. Thoracic Rotation Stretch

Thoracic Rotation Stretch

You can do this stretch while lying down or while sitting. To do it in the horizontal position, you will have to;

  • Lay down on your side. Make sure to bring your knees as high as you can (without feeling pain). Bear in mind that the higher the knees, the better the stretch will be.

By bringing the knees up, you’ll prevent the rotation from occurring in the lower back. This means that the stretch will only affect the upper back area, which is our goal.

  • Now, if you’re lying on your right side, you will use your right hand to hold the knees. If you’re lying on your left side, you will use the left hand to hold the knees. This is optional, but it provides additional support.
  • If you’re lying on the right side, you will place your left hand onto the ribs. At this point, you’re going to rotate so that your left shoulder touches the floor.

The upper back will rotate and the lower back will stay straight and locked in position. You will do the same if you’re lying on the left side; only your right hand will be placed on the ribs and your right shoulder will rotate.

  • Make sure to hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds and also repeat three times. Make sure to do the exercise on both sides for full impact.
  • If you want to advance the exercise, you can do the following; when you’ve rotated the arm and the shoulder, you can also stretch your arm completely, which will make the exercise deeper and more thorough. You will do this only if you can tolerate the rotation, pressure, and pain.

2. Thoracic Rotation On Chair

To do the thoracic rotation stretch while sitting, you will have to;

  • Sit on a chair. The chair should be sturdy and able to support you while doing this exercise. Make sure to sit properly, with you back straight and tall, shoulders back, relaxed, and the neck/head straight as well.
  • You will then cross your arms across the chest or place hands onto the back of your neck. Then, you will make sure to rotate the upper body, without overly moving the lower back.

Focus on rotating the shoulders by leading with your arms first.

  • When rotated, you should hold the position 15 to 20 seconds (or as long as you can) and then slowly rotate to the other side.
  • Make sure to repeat both rotations at least three times. You can do this stretch in your office, in the morning after waking up, or when you feel a really deep and dull upper back pain.

3. Thoracic Extension On Chair

Thoracic Extension On Chair

Similar to the previous exercise, here’s how you can do the thoracic extension;

  • Again, make sure to sit on a sturdy and supportive chair. Sit properly, with your spine, shoulders, neck, and head straight. By doing this in an inadequate position, you can actually hurt your upper back more.
  • Place both of your hands onto the back of your neck. Make sure that the hands intertwine and provide additional support to the neck. Hold firm and make sure not to have a flimsy grip.
  • At this point, you will extend backward, over the chair. Stretch as far as you can to get a nice, deep stretch, or as far as you can tolerate the pain and the pressure. You might experience some crack and pop sounds coming from the upper back; this just means that the stretching is working.

4. Thoracic Mobilization Stretch With A Foam Roller

Thoracic Mobilization

For this stretching exercise, you will need a foam roller. Foam rollers are very cheap, and if you don’t have one, you can find a foam roller at any gym, pilates, or yoga studio. Here’s what you’ll do for this stretch exercise;

  • You will place the foam roller perpendicular to your spine. We recommend you use a foam roller, so if you don’t have one, then skip this stretch exercise.
  • Place both of your hands onto the back of your neck. Your neck will need all the support during this stretch exercise, so make sure to have a full grip.
  • Now, you will lie down onto the foam roller only with your upper back. The rest of the body will be on the floor or exercising mat. Make sure to extend over the roller to prevent any type of improper movement.
  • At this point, you will move your upper back over the foam roller, with your back extended and your neck supported. When you roll your back like this, each vertebra will get mobilized.
  • You should do these stretch exercise several times, each time lasting for at least a minute.

5. Upper Back Shoulder Shrug and Stretch

Shoulder Shrug
Source: Terry Cralle, RN

These stretch exercises are very simple and easy, especially for people whose upper back area is very painful and stiff. Here’s what you’ll do with this exercise;

  • Stand straight up, making sure that your shoulders are relaxed and that your back is straight.
  • You will do two exercises intermittently. The first one includes slowly pulling the arms back, while the elbows are bent. You should keep this position for at least 5 seconds, and then relaxing the arms next to your body.
  • Then, you will slowly raise your shoulders, as high as you can. It should look as if you’re shrugging. You should also hold this position at least 5 seconds.
  • Keep repeating this stretch exercise combination, as many times as it fits you. This stretch exercise is very simple, and you can do it anywhere, anytime. It provides instant relief and the needed relaxation and mobility to the upper back.

6. Yoga Cobra Pose

Yoga Cobra
Source: Terry Cralle, RN

Yoga is known to have numerous stretching poses which can be excellent for the annoying upper back pain. Here’s how the Cobra pose is done;

  • Start the stretching by lying down on your stomach. Make sure to use the floor as your support by placing a yoga mat or something softer than the floor alone.
  • Next, you will try to raise your head, neck, and upper back. Use your palms or forearms as support. When using your forearms, make sure that the elbows are in line with the shoulders.
  • At this point, you will start pushing yourself back, in the direction opposite from the floor. You will feel your spine arching and stretching. Make sure to do this slowly and gently, so that you don’t overdo the stretch.
  • You can hold this extended position anywhere between 5 to 20 seconds, depending on the pain, pressure, and mobility of your back that you can handle.

7. Yoga Child’s Pose

Yoga Child's Pose

Another yoga pose on this list is the Child’s pose, which usually follows the Cobra pose. Both should be done for the ultimate effect on your upper back. Here’s what you will do;

  • Make sure to use a yoga mat or anything soft enough not to hurt your legs and knees. Kneel down onto the mat and make sure to keep your toes together and the knees hip-wide apart.
  • Then, you will lower your torso between your knees and extend your arms before you, placing the palms onto the floor/mat. Make sure to relax and not push your torso too much in case of pain and muscle tension.
  • You can rest in this pose as long as you want. As you keep doing it, make sure to lower your torso even more, so that your spine/back is as straight as it can be. The exercise will remove any pressure from the upper back as well as the shoulders.

Additional Simple Stretches

  • Doorway stretch – this may sound unusual, but you can use your doorways to stretch your upper back. Stand in the open doorway and grab with your hands the door frame above the head. Hold it tightly and move forward, while keeping your feet in one place.
  • Shoulder roll – you can do this exercise when you’re sitting or standing. Make sure to push your shoulders down as much as you can.

Then, rotate them slowly, trying to make a wide, full circle. You should do this 5 times rotating to the front, and then rotating to the back. Repeat this exercise up to your liking and needs.

  • Butterfly stretch – place your hands on the opposite shoulders. Then, try to bring your elbows together, so they touch. And that is it. Hold this pose for a few seconds and then release your arms. Try doing this at least 5 times in a row for the full effect.
  • Wall stretch – make sure to stand against a wall. Try to place your whole back onto the wall, in which case your feet will need to be a step away from the wall.

Then, extend your arms out on the wall with your elbows bent at 90 degrees (should resemble a T shape). At this point, simply move your arms up and down, as if you’re creating a snow angel.

The arms need to stay on the wall the whole time. Repeat the exercise to your liking.

  • Overhead arm stretch – sit in a chair and make sure to sit with your back, neck, and shoulders straight. Your feet should face forward and be on the ground.

Then, extend one arm at the time up above your head and reach the opposite side. Bend your torso and the upper back as you extend the arms. Repeat each side for at least 5 times, and make sure to rest between stretches.

Tips For Preventing Upper Back Pain

  • Losing weightobesity is one of the main contributors to the upper back pain. The excess weight puts additional stress onto your back and increases tension while decreasing mobility, support, and strength. So, make sure to lose weight to lower the pressure on your upper back.
  • Physical activity – alongside the stretch exercises, make sure to also exercise and stay active during the rest of the day.

If you’re physically active, you’re less likely to deal with weight and more likely to build muscles and strengthen bones and joints. Also, you’re more likely to keep a proper posture, since your back will be strong enough to support such a spinal position.

  • Sleeping position – certain sleeping positions can contribute to upper back pain.

For example, if you sleep on your stomach you’re more likely to cause or worsen shoulder, neck, and upper back pain. Make sure to sleep on your back, or at least on the side using proper sleeping aid (additional pillows for support, mattress topper, etc.).

  • Mattress – the mattress you use can either prevent or cause upper back pain. Make sure your mattress is medium-firm, that it conforms to your body and releases tension from the pressure points (neck, back, shoulders, hips, knees).

Latex foam and memory foam mattresses are the best for back pain issues.

  • Sitting position – if you’re someone who spends a lot of time working at the desk or computer, make sure to pay attention to the way you’re sitting.

Your hips should be far back, against the chair, your feet flat on the floor and your back should be straight. Your hands should also be at the level of your elbows.

  • Standing and overall posture – many of us tend to slouch when we’re standing. Slouching contributes to the overall back pain, makes the shoulder move forward, and puts additional pressure on the chest and the spine.

Make sure to stand as straight as possible, try to shift weight from one leg to the other, and make sure to walk and stretch for a few minutes at least.

Final Words

We truly hope that our recommendations for stretch exercises will help you out. If upper back pain is a concern for you, try these exercises out, after you’ve addressed them with your doctor or a medical professional.

If you still experience pain in the upper back area, you can always try over-the-counter medication or gels intended to relieve the pain. If the pain progresses, you should see a doctor in case there is an underlying, more serious issue.

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