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Welcome to our blog post “5 Yoga Stretches To Alleviate Your Upper Back Pain”
What is upper back pain?
The upper back is called the Thoracic Spine and starts beneath the neck and ends at the lower back lumbar region. It is relatively immobile because each of its vertebrae are connected either side to your ribs. The Sternum at the front combines to make what we call the “rib cage”
The Neck (Cervical Spine) & the Lower Back (Lumbar Spine) are the area where people usually get problems, because they aren’t connected to the solid rib frame. But the upper back (Thoracic Spine) can also be an area of pain and stiffness, usually through injury but also through bad posture. See our post on lower back pain here.
What Causes Upper Back Pain?
There are many reasons why you may experience upper back pain. Some of them are as follows:
- Poor Posture – sitting with rounded back, slouching forward puts too much stress on the upper back muscles.
- Improper Lifting – pain from improper lifting can be severe if you don’t use bent knees and straight back.
- Carrying Heavy Backpack – an over loaded back can cause injury to the spine or using just one strap.
- Trauma/Injury – traumatic events such as car accidents can cause upper back pain. It’s also possible to fracture a spine through injury.
- Infection – a spinal abscess can compress the spinal cord or spinal nerves causing pain & other symptoms
- Osteoporosis – wearing away of the vertebrae causes the bones to grind together causing pain
- Kyphosis – when the spine starts to curve outwards
What Are The Symptoms Of Upper Back Pain?
For some people upper back pain will just be a mild nuisance that disappears after a few days, for others it can be a recurring problem. Having had lower back pain myself I know how severe the pain can be. Some of the upper back pain symptoms are as follows:
- Sharp pain – Typically described as excruciating, like burning or a knife like feel, usually located in one spot.
- Discomfort – aching or throbbing pain in the upper back, perhaps radiating into the shoulders or lower back.
- Stiffness – certain movements like twisting or lifting can become difficult sometimes impossible due to severe stiffness
- Radiating pain – travelling along the nerves of the spinal column, from dull to sharp severe pain
- Tingling, numbness or weakness – this could be in the upper back, or radiating outwards into the arms, chest or stomach.
What Is The Treatment of Upper Back Pain?
If your upper back pain is a non emergency, you can safely try to alleviate the pain on your own. Quite a few self-care treatments for upper back pain exist but in the main there are two types of treatment-
- Self Care Treatments
- Medical Treatments
1. Self Care Treatments of Upper Back Pain
- Rest – Yes, it’s obvious, but not to some people who actually make their upper back pain worse by not resting it for a few days
- Active Once Rested – After a few days rest, try to become active again as inactivity weakens the upper back muscles.
- Ice/Heat therapy – Ice may be applied to reduce pain and swelling during first 48 hours, then heat packs limited to 20 mins, with a cloth between the ice/heat & the skin.
- OTC (Over The Counter) medications – such as Ibuprofen, naproxen, etc, may reduce inflammation and upper back pain. Follow the instructions carefully.
- Massage – this can provide relief from your upper back pain, may only be temporary but can help.
- Yoga stretches – Yoga stretches are a great way to reduce current pain and help prevent the onset of further problems.
2. Medical Treatments of Upper Back Pain
- Injections – There are several spinal injection options that block spinal pain. They are generally not considered to be a great long-term solution
- CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) – basically focusing on the positives and reducing negative thoughts aids pain relief for many patients
- Manual Manipulation – using a Chiropractor, physiocist or other qualified medical professional, using manual manipulation or spinal adjustments
- Acupuncture – many people report great results from acupuncture and I really believe in this. It’s worth a go!
- Electrotherapy – sending small electrical pulses to the painful area reduces the perception of pain
- Surgery – Quite rare for back pain to have surgery but usually if the spine or nerves are at risk, or there is a risk of spinal deformity, or debilitating pain
How does Yoga work for Upper Back Pain?
For mild to middle pain, discomfort or stiffness, Yoga is the ideal way to not only deal with the pain, but also to increase your general health. Yoga helps reduce pain in your upper back by lengthening and strengthening the muscles in your back. The added blood circulation also helps to reduce pain. You will feel better and your upper back pain will reduce if you practice yoga regularly.
What’s the best stretching exercise for Upper Back Pain?
1. Cat cow pose
The stretching this pose produces benefits to all sections of the back by strengthening, stretching and releasing tension in the spine. This combined with slow breathing techniques helps reduce pain and prevent further injuries.
How to do it-
- Bring your hands and knees to the floor.
- Make sure your knees are in line with your hips, and that your wrists are in line with your shoulders and your back and head are centered.
- On an inhale slowly drop your belly towards the floor as you lift your hips, roll your shoulders back and raise your chin towards the sky.
- On an exhale, press your palms firmly into the mat as you curve your spine, rounding the shoulders and tucking the tailbone in.
2. Seated Twist
This improves posture and spine mobility by strengthening the back and possibly prevents further problems as you grow older.
How to do it-
- Start off in the seated position
- Bring your left foot outside your right knee.
- Extend your right arm up, hook your right elbow outside your left knee and look over your left shoulder.
- Hold for three breaths before repeating on the opposite side.
3. Child’s Pose
This is another stretching exercise that elongates the back, reduces tension between the vertebrae and the discs. Also a great de-stressor before bed or anytime you feel stressed or anxious.
How to do it-
- Start on all fours with your arms stretched out straight in front of you,
- then sit back so your glutes (butt muscles) come to rest just above — but not touching — your heels.
- Hold the position for 5 to 10 breaths, and
- repeat as many times as needed for a good, soothing stretch.
4. Bow Pose
Quite a difficult little exercise and not to be attempted if you are in moderate upper back pain or worse. This exercise stretches and strengthens the upper back and shoulders, creating better posture and releasing tension in the whole of the back region but especially the upper back.
How to do it-
- Lie face down on your stomach
- With both hands, reach for your heels and lift them up
- Your back will naturally come with you.
- Hold for three breaths.
5. Downward Facing Dog
This classic yoga pose targets your hamstrings and lower back, helping you reduce current pain and prevent further injuries especially, especially when lifting heavy objects, as this stretch helps support and build muscle in the lower and upper back regions.
How to do it-
- Stand on four limbs, such that your body forms a table-like structure.
- Exhale and gently lift your hips and straighten your elbows and knees. You need to ensure your body forms an inverted ‘V’.
- Your hands should be in line with your shoulders, and your feet in line with your hips. Make sure that your toes point outwards.
- Now, press your hands into the ground and lengthen your neck. Your ears should touch your inner arms, and you should turn your gaze to your navel.
- Hold for a few seconds, and then, bend your knees and return to the table position.