Relieve Upper Back Pain: 17 Effective Exercises

woman working in an office with upper back pain

Are you looking to find relief from upper back pain? Well, you've come to the right place.

Although studies show that lower back pain is reported about twice as often as upper back pain, the latter is still a common ailment.

Fortunately, there are exercises that you could perform to alleviate upper back pain.

In this post, we will explore the 17 most effective exercises to relieve upper back pain today. Let's get into it!

What is Upper Back Pain?

Upper back pain and middle back pain can occur anywhere from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage, across a part of your body called the thoracic spine.

A person's thoracic spine is made up of 12 small bones called vertebrae, which form your backbone.

Upper back pain is often characterised by a dull, burning, or sharp pain in the upper and middle back regions and is commonly caused by injuries, poor posture, muscle strains or medical conditions - but more on that a little later on.

This discomfort can disrupt daily activities, hence understanding its causes and seeking appropriate treatment is pivotal.

What Does Upper Back Pain Feel Like?

Upper back pain can manifest in various ways, with the exact feeling often depending on the cause. For some, it may present as a constant ache or discomfort, especially after long periods of sitting or standing.

Typically, the discomfort upper back pain causes can feel like:

  • Pain that is sharp, stabbing or burning in nature.
  • A constant, throbbing discomfort.
  • Stiffness or muscular tension.
  • Reduced range of motion in the upper body.
  • Discomfort that travels along the nerve pathway.
  • A sensation of tingling, numbness, or weakness.

The pain may be localised to the spine or spread to adjoining areas, even radiating to the chest or arms.

These symptoms can vary in intensity and duration, from intermittent pain that comes and goes to persistent pain that lasts for weeks or months.

woman working at home with a sore neck

Common Chronic Back Pain Causes

Much like other chronic pain conditions, there is no single cause of upper back pain; instead, a combination of factors can contribute to its onset.

  • Injuries: People often experience chronic upper back pain due to various injuries, such as sprains, strains or fractures in the spine or surrounding muscles. These can be caused by accidents, sports activities or repetitive strain from work.
  • Poor posture: Bad posture, especially slouching or sitting with a hunched back, can put unnecessary stress on the spine and muscles in the upper back. Often occurring in sync with tech-related injuries, this poor posture can lead to chronic pain over time.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions like osteoarthritis, scoliosis or herniated disk can also cause chronic upper back pain. These conditions can affect the structure and function of the spine, leading to pain and discomfort.
  • Muscle imbalances: Imbalances in the muscles that support your upper back, such as weak back muscles or overly tight chest muscles, can also lead to chronic pain.
  • Arthritis:  Arthritis and other rheumatic joint pain are notorious for affecting the joints in your arms and legs. However, they can also cause chronic upper back pain by damaging the joints in your spine.
  • Strains and sprains: Poor lifting techniques or overexertion during physical activity can cause strains and sprains in the muscles and ligaments of your upper back, leading to pain.
  • Fractures: In severe cases, trauma or injury can cause fractures in the vertebrae of the upper back. These fractures can be very painful and require medical attention.

Exercises To Relieve Upper Back Pain

If you suffer from lower back pain, you know how debilitating it can be. The good news is that exercise has been found to be highly effective in relieving upper back muscle pain.

So, if you're looking for an effective exercise for bad back pain you're in luck. We have not just one, but 17 exercises to help relieve upper back pain today.

Better yet, when used in combination with heat therapy and percussion massage, such as with our innovative Rhia Nano device, these exercises can help ease your upper back pain and provide organic pain relief.

Just remember, never force the movement; these exercises should not cause pain.

Without further ado, here are our 17 exercises to ease lower back pain and upper back pain.

1) Warm Up

Before starting any exercise, it's essential to warm up your muscles and joints. This helps prevent further injury or strain and prepares the body for physical activity.

If you're preparing for a workout, dynamic stretches like arm circles and shoulder rolls are great for reducing upper back pain.

For a gentler warm-up, you could also try deep breathing exercises or gentle static stretches.

In particular,  prolonged static stretches (where you hold the position for over 60 seconds) can help relieve upper back pain by increasing blood flow and relaxing tense muscles.

2) Shoulder Roll

Great for your shoulders and upper back, the shoulder roll is a simple and effective exercise for reducing discomfort in the upper back.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Sit or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place your hands on your thighs, palms facing down.
  3. Roll your shoulders forward, then up, then back in a circular motion.
  4. Repeat for 30 seconds, and then switch directions.

3) Neck Roll

The neck roll is another simple exercise that can bring relief to the upper back, especially if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Sit or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Drop your shoulders and relax your arms by your side.
  3. Tilt your neck to the right until you feel the stretch through your neck.
  4. After stretching this muscle for a couple of seconds, slowly roll your head clockwise until you end back where you started.
  5. Repeat for 30 seconds, and then switch directions.

4) March on the Spot

The march on the spot exercise is perfect for warming up the body and preparing it for more vigorous activity. It also helps improve posture, which can alleviate upper back pain caused by poor posture.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift one knee as high as you can comfortably go while trying to keep your back straight.
  3. As you lift your knee up, lift your opposite arm above your head. Try to stay in the same spot.
  4. Return the foot to the ground slowly and lower your raised arm.
  5. Repeat this process with the other leg and arm.
  6. Continue marching on the spot for 60 seconds.

5) Heel Digs

This exercise helps to build strength in your legs, hip muscles and core while also improving posture. Heel digs can help alleviate upper back pain by strengthening the muscles that support your spine.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Lie down with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your side.
  2. Bend the right knee up towards your chest, aiming for a 90-degree angle.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds and lower the right foot back down.
  4. Repeat with the left leg. Continue alternating between legs for 60 seconds.

6) Knee Bends

This exercise is another excellent way to strengthen your core, hips and legs while improving posture. In turn, knee bends will help to reduce upper back pain by taking some strain off your spine.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms extended out in front of you at shoulder level.
  2. Slowly lower yourself into a squat position, pushing your hips back as if you're going to sit down on an imaginary chair.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly return to standing.
  4. Repeat 10-12 times.

7) Thoracic Chair Rotation

This exercise is ideal for improving mobility and flexibility in the upper back. Chair rotations can help alleviate pain caused by tightness or stiffness in this area.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground, hands crossed at shoulder level with each hand holding a bicep.
  2. Keeping your feet planted, gently rotate your torso to the right as far as you comfortably can.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat on the left side.
  5. Continue alternating sides for 30 seconds.
  6. Keeping your arms crossed, lean into the back of the chair and stretch for 10 seconds.

8) Knee Lifts

This exercise is great for strengthening the abdominal muscles, which can help to improve posture and alleviate upper back pain.

To perform the knee lift exercise:

  1. Sit down with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your side.
  2. Raise one knee up to hip level while keeping your back straight.
  3. Slowly lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side.
  4. Continue alternating between legs for 60 seconds.
  5. If you wish to advance this exercise, sustain the period you hold your leg up for a few seconds longer.

9) Cat-Cow Pose

The Cat Cow yoga pose is perfect for improving flexibility and mobility in the spine, which can help alleviate upper back pain caused by stiffness.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Inhale and arch your back while looking up towards the ceiling.
  3. Exhale and round your back while looking down towards the floor.
  4. Continue this movement for 60 seconds.

10) Upper Trapezius Stretch

The Upper Trapezius Stretch is an effective exercise often recommended to alleviate neck, shoulder, and upper back tension. Here's how you can perform this exercise:

  1. Begin in a seated or standing position, ensuring that your spine is aligned and your shoulders are relaxed.
  2. Gently tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder until a gentle stretch is felt in the side of your neck and shoulder.
  3. To increase the stretch, you can gently use your hand to pull your head to the side (optional).
  4. Hold this position for about 20-30 seconds, breathing steadily throughout.
  5. Slowly lift your head back to the centre and then repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
  6. Perform this exercise 2-3 times on each side, depending on your comfort level.

11) Trunk Rotation

The trunk rotation exercise is fantastic for improving flexibility and mobility in the upper back and torso, which can ultimately alleviate discomfort caused by poor posture or stiffness. Here's how to perform this exercise:

  1. Start by sitting or standing up straight with your feet firmly planted shoulder-width apart.
  2. Gently twist your torso to the right as far as you can comfortably go, keeping your hips and legs facing forward. Be sure to engage your abs for stability.
  3. Hold this pose for a few seconds, feeling the stretch in your back and torso.
  4. Slowly return to your starting position.
  5. Repeat the process, this time twisting to the left.
  6. Continue alternating sides for a minute or two.

Remember, don't force the rotation or twist too far—this exercise should never cause pain. Instead, focus on gradually increasing your range of motion over time.

12) Overhead Arm Reach

The overhead arm reach is a simple stretch that can help alleviate upper back pain by improving flexibility and reducing tension in the shoulders and upper back.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Extend both arms above your head, reaching as high as you comfortably can.
  3. Without bending at the waist, reach upwards with your right hand a little higher, then lift up with your left hand.
  4. Alternate this "reaching" movement between hands for about 30 seconds.
  5. Lower your arms slowly to the sides and relax.
  6. Repeat this exercise 2-3 times.

13) Knee to chest

The knee to chest exercise is a gentle stretch that can ease lower back pain by loosening your muscles and improving flexibility. Here's how you can carry out this exercise:

  1. Lie flat on your back on a comfortable surface, such as a yoga mat or thick carpet.
  2. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground.
  3. Slowly bring one knee upwards to a 90-degree angle, while keeping the other foot flat on the floor, and your lower back pressed down.
  4. Hold on to your knee with both hands and gently pull it closer to your chest.
  5. Keep this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then slowly release and lower your leg back down.
  6. Repeat the exercise with the other leg.
  7. Do this for each leg 2-3 times, depending on your comfort level.

14) Neck Flexion

The neck flexion stretch can be an effective method for relieving tension in the neck and upper back. This simple exercise can be performed throughout the day to alleviate discomfort. Here's how to perform neck flexion:

  1. Begin in a seated or standing position, maintaining good posture with your shoulders relaxed and your gaze forward.
  2. Slowly lower your chin towards your chest, feeling a gentle stretch in the back of your neck.
  3. Hold this position for about 20-30 seconds, breathing steadily throughout.
  4. Slowly lift your head and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this exercise 3-4 times.

15) Child's Pose

The Child's Pose, or "Balasana", is a restful yoga posture that is particularly beneficial for stretching the lower back and hips, relieving tension, and promoting relaxation. To perform this pose, follow these steps:

  1. Begin by sitting back on your heels on a comfortable surface, such as a yoga mat.
  2. Slowly bend forward and extend your arms in front of you, palms facing down.
  3. Rest your forehead gently on the mat while keeping your arms extended.
  4. Stay in this position, focusing on your breath and allowing your body to relax deeper into the pose with each exhale.
  5. Maintain this pose for about 30 seconds to a minute, depending on your comfort level.
  6. To come out of the pose, slowly lift your torso and sit back on your heels.

16) Scapular Squeeze

The Scapular Squeeze is another beneficial exercise to alleviate upper back and shoulder tension. Here is how to perform this exercise:

  1. Stand or sit tall with your back straight.
  2. Outstretch your arms and push your palms back. This stretch should feel as though your shoulder blades are being pushed towards each other.
  3. Hold this position for 5 seconds, ensuring you're not shrugging your shoulders up during the process.
  4. Gradually release your shoulder blades, returning to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

17) Wall Angel

The Wall Angel exercise is a popular exercise known for improving posture and shoulder mobility and reducing upper back pain. Here's how you can perform this exercise:

  1. Stand with your back against a wall, making sure that your head, shoulders, and buttocks are touching the wall.
  2. Position your arms in a 'W' shape against the wall with your palms facing outwards.
  3. Slowly slide your arms upwards to form an 'I' shape, keeping your hands and the back of your arms in contact with the wall.
  4. Lower your arms back down into the 'W' position.
  5. Repeat this movement 10-15 times, ensuring to maintain contact with the wall throughout the exercise.

Unlock Organic Pain Relief With Rhia

You've made it to the end of our blog post, thank you for reading!

We hope that you discovered new stretches and exercises that can help alleviate your upper back pain.

Remember, it is essential to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard. If you experience any discomfort or pain while performing these exercises, consult a medical professional.

At Rhia, we believe in the power of natural remedies for addressing pain and discomfort. That's why we developed the Rhia Nano, the world's first compact heat and percussion therapy device.

With Rhia Nano, you can experience the benefits of heat and percussion therapy anytime, anywhere. Its compact size allows for targeted pain relief on your upper back, neck, and shoulders.

Say goodbye to bulky heating pads or difficult-to-use massagers and unlock organic pain relief with Rhia Nano. Visit our store today to learn more.

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