Upper and middle back pain is less common than pain affecting the lower back or neck. But that doesn’t make it any less aggravating to deal with. Here are 5 common exercises that target the muscles surrounding the thoracic spine. It’s advised you try these exercises under the guidance of a health care professional.

See Early Treatments for Upper Back Pain

Cobra pose

This back extension exercise is referred to as the cobra pose in yoga. It targets your back extensor muscles, which are attached to the back of your spine.

  1. Lie down with your stomach on the floor, with your hands in a push-up position.
  2. Slowly push through your arms until you straighten your elbows, lifting the top half of your body off the ground.
  3. Keep your lower body relaxed against the ground. This position is typically held for 1 to 2 seconds and repeated 10 times.

If this exercise is difficult for you, try a modified version where you rest on your forearms.

See Exercise and Back Pain

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Back extension exercise

Here’s an advanced extension exercise that targets your upper back muscles:

  1. Lie face down on your stomach with a pillow tucked under your hips.
  2. Reach your hands straight back. You can clasp them together behind your back.
  3. Raise your head and chest off the ground.
  4. Hold this position for 5 seconds while looking at the ground.
  5. Gradually work up to 20 seconds at a time. Aim to complete 8 to 10 repetitions of this exercise.

See Back Strengthening Exercises

To increase the intensity slightly, you can lift your legs off the ground, too.

Cat-cow pose

The cat-cow pose is a gentle stretch that can help ease the pain in your middle back.

  1. Get on your hands and knees. Align your arms straight under your shoulders, your knees directly under your hips, and your head straight in line with your torso and spine.
  2. Round your back, lifting your spine toward the ceiling. Your eyes should face your belly. Hold this pose for a deep breath.
  3. Slowly lift your chest and tailbone toward the ceiling, letting your stomach sink toward the ground. Your eyes will look up toward the ceiling.
  4. After another breath, gently round your back and lift your spine toward the ceiling again.

Alternate between the two poses.

See Stretching for Back Pain Relief

Opposite arm/leg raise

This exercise, sometimes called the bird-dog pose in yoga, strengthens your abdominals and back muscles.

  1. Get on your hands and knees. Keep your spine straight, with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees aligned directly under your hips.
  2. Slowly reach out with one arm while extending the leg on its opposite side. Keep both straight and level.
  3. Hold for a few deep breaths, then gently lower your arm and leg to starting position.
  4. Repeat this exercise with your other arm/leg.

Try for 10 to 15 repetitions on each side.

See Back Exercises and Abdominal Exercise Recommendations

Corner stretch

Upper back pain is often due to poor posture, which may be exacerbated by tight chest muscles. The corner stretch is an easy and effective way to open up the chest muscles and encourage healthy posture.

  1. Face a corner of a room or stand in a doorway. Place your forearms against each wall (or each door jamb) with your elbows slightly below shoulder level.
  2. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest under your collarbone.

Hold this stretch for up to a minute.

See Easy Chest Stretches for Neck Pain

A health care professional can create for you an exercise plan specifically tailored to treat your underlying condition. Stop immediately if any of these exercises cause pain.

Learn more:

All About Upper Back Pain

Causes of Upper Back Pain

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