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How to Ease and Prevent Upper Back Pain With Exercise?

Upper back pain is a common problem that can range from dull aches to severe pain that limits mobility. While some upper back pain is caused by underlying medical issues like spinal problems or muscle strains, a lot of it stems from poor posture, stress, and weak back muscles. The good news is that certain exercises can help strengthen your back to prevent and treat upper back discomfort. Here are some of the best exercises to ease upper back pain and keep it from returning.

Stretches for Upper Back Pain Relief

Gentle stretches can provide quick relief for tense, tight upper back muscles. Try these simple stretches anytime your upper back feels sore:

  • Doorway chest stretch. Stand in a doorway with your arms out straight and hands on the door frame. Gently lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest and front shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times. This counteracts hunching forward.
  • Crossbody shoulder stretch. Bring one arm across your chest and use the other hand to gently pull it closer to stretch your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.
  • Neck stretches. Look straight ahead, then gently turn your head to look over each shoulder. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds on each side. Also try carefully tilting your head down toward your chest and up toward the ceiling to stretch the back of your neck.
  • Upper back foam roll. Sit on the floor with a foam roller behind your mid back. Cross your arms in front of you. Slowly roll back over the roller, massaging tight spots for 30 seconds each.

Strengthening Exercises for Upper Back Pain Prevention

While stretches can provide some quick relief, strengthening exercises are key to preventing and reducing upper back discomfort over time. These exercises can build endurance in your upper back muscles so they are better equipped to support your posture all day:

  • Upper back foam roll. Lie face down on the floor with a foam roller under your upper back, palms facing down. Raise your arms out to your sides with thumbs up. Hold for 2 seconds, then lower back down. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps. This targets your rhomboid muscles.
  • Shoulder squeezes. Sit or stand with arms at your sides, palms facing forward. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps. You’ll feel this along your mid-upper back.
  • Seated rows. Use a resistance band, machine, or dumbbells. Sit up straight, keep your core tight. Pull the handles back toward your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades. Slowly return to the starting position. Do 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps. Targets upper back and rear shoulder muscles.
  • Chest fly. Lie faceup on an exercise ball with feet hip-width apart. Keep your lower back pressed into the ball. Extend your arms out to the sides with a slight bend. Raise your arms up over your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades. Return to start. Do 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps.
  • Shoulder shrugs. Stand with good upright posture, arms at your sides. Slowly raise your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold briefly, then relax down. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps. Improves shoulder and neck posture.
  • Back extensions. Lie facedown with your legs straight and toes pointed down. Rest your forehead on your hands. Contract your lower back muscles to slowly raise your head, upper back, and shoulders a few inches. Hold for 1 second, lower down. Do 10-15 reps. Strengthens your lower back to support the upper back.

Lifestyle Tips for a Strong, Pain-Free Upper Back

Along with doing regular upper back stretches and strengthening exercises, these tips will help reinforce good posture and keep your upper back comfortable:

  • Maintain good seated posture. Avoid hunching forward when sitting at a desk or looking at your phone.
  • Take frequent breaks from sitting. Get up and walk around periodically.
  • Be mindful of posture when carrying heavy bags. Don’t overload one side.
  • Sleep on your side or back, not stomach. Place a pillow between your knees.
  • Manage stress through yoga, meditation, massage, and other relaxation techniques. Stress contributes to muscle tension.
  • Stretch your upper back after long periods of sitting or strenuous upper body activities.

By combining upper back exercises with healthy lifestyle habits, you can keep discomfort at bay and your back strong and stable for life. Just a few minutes a day can make a big difference in preventing and easing upper back pain.