When most people think of back pain, they usually think about the lower back. Lower back pain is the most common kind of back pain with as many as 80% of Americans suffering from this unpleasant condition, and lower back pain being the second-most common cause of work absenteeism.
However, and not far behind, is upper back pain. Upper back pain tends to be less debilitating but is still a problem that many people deal with on a daily basis.
In this article, I want to explore some of the causes of upper back pain and provide you with some simple ways to reduce your discomfort and restore normal upper back function.
5 Exercises for Upper back pain
If you have chronic upper back pain, you should probably get it checked you by a qualified medical professional to reveal the underlying cause. However, and once you have had the go-ahead from your doctor, there are several exercises you can do to reduce upper back pain yourself.
1. Countertop stretch
I love this exercise; I do it every morning for a minute or so while my coffee is brewing. I find that it’s the perfect way to mobilize my upper back after a night of sleeping in the same position. Because I can do it in my kitchen, I have no excuse for not doing it every day. I also like to do it when I get home after a long day of sitting at my computer and in my car. It stretches and mobilizes your upper or thoracic spine and helps cancel out some of the damage done by prolonged sitting.
2. Upper trapezius stretch
Your upper trapezius is the large muscle that runs from the middle and top of your back up into the base of your skull. When this muscle becomes right, as it tends to when you are stressed, it can cause a lot of upper back pain. This stretch can be done anywhere, anytime, even when you are sat at your desk. Do it whenever you feel your shoulders beginning to creep up toward your ears – such as during a stressful phone call. Seated or standing, this is a great stress-busting exercise.
3. Mid backstretch
This is another one of my favorite upper back pain-relieving stretches. All you need is an open doorway, so you can do it almost anywhere in your home or office. It provides the middle of your upper back with a comfortable, relaxing stretch, and is a good way to remove the tensions of the day from your body. If you feel tightness between your shoulder blades, a common problem after a long day of working at a computer or driving, this is the exercise for you.
4. Quadruped thoracic spine twist
Most of spend our days looking straight ahead. This can cause a lot of tension in the upper back and neck, as well as reducing your ability to rotate and twist. You only tend to realize you have lost this ability when you try to do it and realize you can’t! This simple exercise helps remove tension from your upper back and neck by gently twisting your thoracic spine. Don’t worry if you find it hard at first; after a few days of practice, you’ll rediscover your ability to twist and, in doing so, remove a major cause of upper back pain.
5. Cat-cow stretch
If you suffer from upper AND lower back pain, this exercise is an excellent cure-all. It mobilizes and stretches your spine along its entire length, and provides almost instant relief to a range of back pain problems. I like to do this anytime I have spent more than a couple of hours sat at my desk. My work colleagues think it’s pretty funny when I do this in the office, but not having back pain makes it all worthwhile! At the end of the day, I get to go home with a spine that feels young, supple, and healthy. They, on the other hand, have back pain, and walk like old people!
Five common causes of upper back pain
Upper back pain can be caused by several factors including:
- Habitual slouching – tall people, people who have to work in confined spaces, and people with habitually poor posture tend to slouch, and that slouch comes from rounding the upper back. This puts stress on the muscles, ligaments, and disks of the upper back and that can produce pain.
- Poor seated posture – if you work at a computer, chances are you hunch over your keyboard and also crane your neck forward to look at your display screen. This puts a lot of stress on your upper back as your muscles have to work harder than normal to hold your head up against gravity.
- 3. Stress – stress causes your muscles to tense up, especially those in your upper back and neck. All this extra tension disrupts the blood flow to your upper back and neck muscles which increases lactic acid production and causes localized muscle pain. Many people find their upper back pain disappears at the weekend, or while on vacation when stress levels are invariably lower.
- 4. Carrying a heavy shoulder bag – carrying a lot of weight on just one shoulder increases your chances of developing upper back pain. A heavy work bag, for example, will pull one shoulder downward which increases the strain on your upper back. The best solution to this problem is to use a rucksack and put the straps on both shoulders, therefore spreading the load evenly.
- 5. Lack of exercise – being sedentary can soon lead to muscle weakness and upper back pain. Your head is the heaviest part of your body, and it takes a lot of strength to hold it up against the pull of gravity. Lack of muscle strength means your head tends to hang forward and that puts a lot of stress on the vertebrae, ligaments, intervertebral disks, and muscles of your upper back. Exercise is crucial for keeping your muscles strong enough to take the stress off the skeletal components of your upper back.
More About Backpain
More natural ways to prevent and reduce back pain can be found in my complete article Back Pain Relief here.