Back Stretches for Upper Back Pain – Everything You Should Know

When we think about back pain, we usually think about pain in the lower part of the back. Pain in the upper back is less common because this portion of the back has bigger strength and less mobility. The reason for this is because one of the upper back’s primary function is to enable us to stand upright.

However, as more people have sedentary lifestyle and spend most of their time sitting or standing in awkward position and hunched over something, upper back pain has become more often. Moreover, it is as painful as lower back pain and can limit your everyday activities..


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In general, upper back pain is any pain that is located in between and under the shoulder blades. This condition is often accompanied by discomfort and pain in the shoulders and neck area. The quality of pain and onset depends on the cause and contributing factors.  It can be acute or chronic, with gradual or sudden onset, sharp or dull.

The most common cause of upper back pain is bad posture. Many people spend most of their work time sitting at the desk in slouched position with a rounded back and shoulders hunched forward. Even when you’re not at work, you’re probably hunched during texting, watching tv, driving etc. Moreover, bad sitting posture also translates to running and standing posture.

I’ve already talked about upper back pain when running, its causes and how to eliminate them.

Other, more common factors that can also lead to upper back pain are overuse, improper lifting, running on harder surfaces, bad sleeping etc..

Most cases of upper back pain are not serious. However, there are some rare cases where upper back pain is caused by infection or illness. In these cases, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible in order prevent further aggravation of the condition. Thankfully, these cases have one or more symptoms that can indicate more serious underlying cause like radiating pain, tingling, fever or chills, walking problems, severe headache etc.

Although upper back is sturdier and less prone to injuries, every upper back pain that follows some accident should be evaluated by a doctor.

How to manage upper back pain?

As with any other medical condition, proper treatment of upper back pain depends on the underlying cause. However, you should always start your treatment with simple home methods like rest, ice and/or heat and anti-inflammatory medications. The aim of this initial treatment is to ease pain and reduce inflammation of the affected structures.

These simple home methods are just temporary solution that will ease the pain and discomfort. However, they don’t correct the underlying cause(s). It is important to identify factors that lead to upper back pain and discomfort and correct them.

Most common causes of upper back pain like bad posture, overuse, improper lifting, uncomfortable sleeping lead to similar changes in upper back. They put more stress on muscles and supporting structures, making them tighter. That is why in addition to strengthening exercises and working on your posture, you should also do stretching exercises.

What are the benefits of stretching?

There are several reasons why back stretches are important for upper back pain. These simple, yet effective stretching exercises will improve range of motion and general mobility, joint health, reduce tension in muscles, help with posture.

Improve range of motion and general mobility

As with all joints in our body, if you don’t use their full range of motion regularly, they will eventually reduce that range of motion.  This loss of mobility and range of motion is caused by shortening of soft tissues and weakening of muscles. Stretching exercises will prevent this shortening and weaknesses and therefore maintain mobility.

Improve and maintain joint health

The cartilages of joints in the spine don’t have blood vessels and nutrient supply through them.  They get nutrients like a sponge through a process called diffusion. Stretching will improve this diffusion. Moreover, it will also improve circulation and nutrient supply to better muscles.

Reduce muscle tension

Staying in awkward, unnatural position for longer periods of time will put more stress on your muscles. Moreover, it will also cause stiffness in your back muscles. Stretching will release this tension by lengthening the muscles and distribute stress more evenly.

Although strengthening exercises will improve the strength of muscles, they will also cause stiffness and tightness. Stiff and tight muscles can lead to pain and discomfort. They will also limit your range of motion. Stretching exercises will prevent this while maintaining their strength.

Natural pain relief

Stretching will stimulate the release of endorphin, hormone that can relief pain. Regular stretching will cause more frequent release of endorphins and help reduce reliance on painkillers. Moreover, they can also elevate mood and relieve symptoms of depression, which are common effects of chronic pain.

Some of the best back stretches for upper back pain

The following exercises are simple, yet effective back stretches that can help with upper back pain.

Overhead reach

What I like about this exercise is that it can be done even when you’re at work. You should do this exercise every time you take a break from sitting at your desk at work, slouching over your computer. You will immediately notice the difference and feel more comfortable.

  • Sit up as straight as possible.
  • Reach both arms overhead.
  • Interlock your fingers.
  • Press your hands straight up toward the ceiling
  • Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
  • You can also do this exercise separately for both sides of your back. Just lean over to one side first, and then repeat in other direction. Stop with it when you feel a stretch on the opposite side of your back.

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

  • Sit or stand with your shoulders directly over your hips and your spine straight.
  • Push your elbows behind your body in order to bring your shoulder blades together as close as possible.
  • Hold for 5 seconds, release and repeat 10 times.

The Butterfly

  • This exercise can be performed while sitting or standing.
  • Place your right hand on your right shoulder and your left hand on your left shoulder.
  • Try to bring both elbows together in front of your body while leaving your hands in place and resting at your shoulders.
  • Hold this stretch for couple for seconds, release and repeat 10 to 15 times.

Trunk Rotation

  • Sit with your back straight and your legs in front of your hips with both feet flat on the floor.
  • Put your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right shoulder
  • Twist your upper body first one on right side and then on the left side.
  • Repeat 10 times on each side.

Kneeling Stretch

Kneeling Stretch
  • Kneel on a firm surface.
  • Sit back on your heels.
  • Lean forward and rest your chest on your thighs.
  • Reach your arms out in front of you.
  • Slowly walk your hands in front of you until you feel a stretch along your upper back muscles.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
  • You can also do this exercise separately for both sides of your back.

Reaching Upper Back Stretch

yoga for runner
  • Stand with your arms out in front and crossed over.
  • Push your hands forward as far as possible. Let your head fall forward.  Try to separate your shoulder blades as best as possible.
  • Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds and repeat 3 times.

Shoulder Shrugs and Rolls

  • Stand or sit up straight with your arms resting at your sides.
  • Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears as far as possible.
  • Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and repeat 10 times.
  • Roll your shoulders by shrugging them up toward your ears. Slowly roll your shoulders and continue to make a circle.
  • Circle 10 times in a forward direction, then 10 times in a backward direction.

 Towel Stretch

 Towel Stretch
  • Roll a towel and place it on the ground.
  • Lie on your back with the towel at the level of your shoulder blades.
  • Raise your arms overhead and rest them on the ground.
  • Stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, then bring your arms back down and relax.
  • Repeat 3 times.

Pectoralis stretch

  • Stand in an open doorway or corner
  • Put both hands above your head on the door frame or wall.
  • Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders.
  • Hold 15 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.


Upper back pain is an unpleasant condition that can limit your everyday activities. Even though there are various causes and contributing factors, most cases of upper back pain are caused by bad posture, improper lifting, overuse and uncomfortable sleeping. All these factors lead to stiff, tight and weak muscles that cause pain and discomfort in upper back pain.

Strengthening the postural muscles is important part of treating upper back pain along with correcting your posture. However, strong muscles that are tight will cause the same problems with upper back pain if they’re not stretched. That is why stretching exercises are crucial for adequate management of upper back problems.

All of these exercises are simple and easy to do. Moreover, many of them don’t need any gear in order to do them. If you spend most of your working hours sitting, take a break once every hour or so and stretch. These back stretches can have big benefits for you and your health. You will not only relax your muscles and alleviate pain but also be less stressful and more enthusiastic.

And remember, every portion of your back is connected. If you have lower back problems, they can also lead to upper back problems and vice versa. Because lower back is more connected with lower limbs and therefore weight-bearing activities, one of the first things you should consider is finding an adequate shoes for walking and running.

I’ve already made a list of best walking shoes for lower back pain. If you want to find out more about lower back pain after walking, you can check my article about this condition.

I hope that with this text you’ve learned more about how back stretches can help upper back problems, what exercises you should do and how to perform them.

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Bella Williams

Hi! I'm Bella. I love running. I write this blog to share everyone about running.

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