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The Best Upper Back Stretches for Pain Relief (According to Physical Therapists)

You Can Heal Your Upper Back Pain
By Luna
The Best Upper Back Stretches for Pain Relief (According to Physical Therapists)

Are you sitting more often nowadays? If so, you may be experiencing more back pain than usual. And when you’re dealing with upper back pain, it can be difficult to focus on much else. 

That’s why it’s important to take the time to practice upper back stretches daily to prevent any pain or a more serious issue from developing. 

The upper back (AKA thoracic spine) starts at the base of your neck and runs to the bottom of your rib cage. If you’re experiencing pain in this region of your body, it’s likely stemming from poor posture. Sitting at a computer or staring down at your phone all day can lead to stiffness, sharp pain, and dull aches. It can even become debilitating and cause additional pain in your arms, chest, or lower back. 

If you’re experiencing chronic pain in this area, you may want to consider physical therapy for upper back pain. If the pain just started or you’re looking to take preventative measures, stretching can certainly help. 

Here are five upper back stretches to help you decrease any pain or tension you’re experiencing in your upper back. 

Cat-Cow Stretch

  1. Come to your hands and knees. Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists and hips over your knees. 
  2. Take a breath in as you lift your sit bones towards the ceiling, your chest forward, and your shoulder blades back and down. Gaze slightly forward. 
  3. As you exhale, press your palms into the ground and round your spine in the opposite direction. Shoulders press out and away from the spine. 
  4. Breathe deeply and repeat ten times. 

Thoracic Rotation Stretch

  1. Lie on your right side with your knees bent and your arms extended out in front of you, palms together and knees stacked one on top of the other.
  2. If you need extra support in the neck, add a yoga block under your head.
  3. Slowly open your left arm up and over to the side (like you’re opening a book) and let your gaze follow.
  4. Let the arm come to the ground (palm faces up) and keep gazing towards your fingertips. The right shoulder should be pressed into the floor. 
  5. Hold for twenty seconds, then slowly bring it back to your starting position. 
  6. Go for three reps, then switch sides. 

Eagle Arms

  1. Sitting or standing with your spine nice and long, bring the right elbow over the left and give yourself a hug. 
  2. If you can easily stack the elbows one on top of the other, press the backs of your hands together and point your fingertips up towards the ceiling.
  3. Gently press the arms away from the chest and relax the shoulders down your back.
  4. Keep your chest lifted and your core gently engaged. 
  5. Breathe deeply and hold for 30 seconds 

Thoracic Extension

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet firmly planted into the floor.
  2. Interlace your fingers and place your hands behind your head. Thumbs can point down the neck for extra support.
  3. Inhale and carefully lean back and gaze towards the ceiling. 
  4. Exhale back to your starting position, spine long. 
  5. Repeat ten times.

Doorway Pec Stretch

  1. Standing in a doorway, open the arms to 90 degrees (shoulders in line with your elbows, elbows in line with the wrists)
  2. Keep your core engaged to protect the back, and take a small step forward with either foot. 
  3. Keep your gaze forward and feel a stretch across your chest and arms. 
  4. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat four times. 

We hope these upper back stretches help you find some relief. Remember—don’t push through the pain! If a certain activity or motion exacerbates your pain symptoms, back off. 

What should I do if my upper back pain won’t go away?

For most people, surgery is not the answer. It’s rare for a diagnostic test to reveal any sort of anatomical issue that needs addressing through surgery. If self-care practices (like stretching, hot/cold therapy, or massage) are producing little to no symptom relief, it’s time to take the next step in your recovery. 

One of the best ways to get rid of your upper back pain once and for all is through physical therapy. A customized treatment plan can help you reduce your pain, restore your mobility, and treat the underlying cause of your pain. 

If you’re sick of dealing with upper back pain, you’re not alone. With on-demand physical therapy from Luna, you can start healing right away. Our expert physical therapists serve patients in a growing number of locations in the Bay Area, like San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, and Alameda. Luna is also available across California, Illinois, and Washington State via delivered in-person sessions and televisits.

Contact us today, and let’s knock out your upper back pain together.  

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