Why is My Upper Back Pain Worse After Stretching?

It’s common for people to experience increased upper back pain or discomfort after stretching or doing certain yoga poses. There are a few reasons why this can happen:

Muscle Soreness

Stretching and yoga exercises target your back muscles in new ways that can lead to microtears in the muscle fibers. This causes muscle soreness that presents as achiness or pain, especially the day after the stretching session. It may feel like you’re more stiff or tender in your upper back after an intense stretch. This post-workout muscle soreness is very common and a sign that you challenged your muscles effectively.


It’s easy to overdo it when you’re stretching by pushing your body further than its normal range of motion. This is especially true for beginners who are still gaining flexibility. Forcing yourself into a stretch too aggressively can strain or sprain the muscles in your upper back. This type of overstretch injury causes sharp or radiating pain during and after stretching as the tissues are damaged. Being mindful not to bounce or jerk into stretches will help prevent overstretching.

Poor Posture

Certain yoga poses and back stretches require maintaining positions that can strain your posture if not done correctly. For example, improper form during a seated twist or standing forward bend can round your upper back and shoulders. Holding poor posture for any length of time adds stress to the muscles, joints and discs in your upper back. This can aggravate existing back problems or trigger new aches and pains. Focus on keeping good alignment with a neutral, elongated spine while stretching.

Muscle Imbalances

When some muscles are much tighter than others, it creates imbalances that when stretched places excessive strain on the tight areas. For example, if your chest is very tight and your upper back is relatively loose, stretching your chest can pull on your upper back in unnatural ways. This compounds stiffness and discomfort in the tighter muscles. It helps to stretch both the tight and loose muscle groups evenly to prevent this.

Poor Breathing

Many people unconsciously hold their breath when stretching into deeper poses. Limiting oxygen flow causes tension in the muscles. Rigid muscles are more prone to strains and microtears during stretching. Remember to breathe slowly and deeply into the areas being stretched to encourage muscles to relax and stretch further with less risk of injury.

The takeaway is that increased upper back pain after stretching often simply indicates you challenged your body in a new way. Allow your muscles time to recover and continue stretching gently and carefully to improve flexibility. However, sharp pain or symptoms that last more than a couple days may signal a more serious injury that requires rest and medical attention. Track your symptoms and talk to your doctor if your back pain persists or worsens with stretching.