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Exercise for Upper Back Pain

By Shannon Marks

The American Chiropractic Association indicates that half of all working people having chronic back pain. In fact, back pain is one of the most common reasons people miss work. Pain in the upper back and spine is caused by imbalance, strains and even lifting or stretching. Though a pill can dull your pain and a new mattress can adjust your posture, exercise is the one thing that will help prevent and alleviate current pain.

Managing Pain

In the orthopedics field, the upper back is referred to as the thoracic back and refers to the part of the spine surrounded by the chest and below the neck. For chronic pain here, as long as it is muscular and not due to arthritis, nerve damage or other illnesses, you have a good chance of successfully managing the pain with exercise and rehabilitation, according to SpineUniverse, an online journal written and edited by spine experts.

Exercise works by strengthening the small muscles and easing the ligaments surrounding the spine. This are challenging muscle groups to reach, which is why chronic pain is so prevalent.


Depending on the cause of your upper back pain, you may need to do specific exercises for several weeks or months. Back pain is notoriously slow to heal because you have to target and strengthen muscles that are too often overlooked. Once the initial pain eases, indicates the Schiffert Health Center at Virginia Tech, continuing strengthening exercises and stretching will help prevent re-injury and pain.

Commit to Rehab

Exercise for thoracic back pain is not something you can do just when you’re in pain. Committing to a rehabilitation routine will keep your muscles conditioned and loose. Exercising regularly will improve posture, endurance and even your ability to do everyday tasks.


Common exercises outlined by Virginia Tech that will help alleviate back pain include the standing stretch. Stand with your back flat against a wall, arms by your side. Slowly lift your arms until they are stretched toward the ceiling. Before bringing your arms back down to the starting position, take a deep breath while reaching toward the ceiling. As you exhale, you should notice your fingers moving about another half-inch upward. This move stretches the muscles in your chest and around your spine.

The second exercise will have you standing with your back flat against the wall. Grip your shoulders with each hand (without crossing arms). Bring the tip of your elbows together. You should feel the stretch in your shoulder blades. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 seconds. Then, keeping your hands on your shoulders, take one step forward and stretch arms as far back as you can, letting your elbows touch the wall. Hold the pose so you feel the stretch in your back muscles.

Helpful Hints

According to the Schiffert Health Center, while exercising, “take deep, even breaths while completing stretches and concentrate on the exercises with slow, steady movements.” If pain persists during your rehabilitation exercises, be sure to tell your doctor or physical therapist because it could be indicative that something is wrong.

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