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Guide to Mid-Back Stretches for Pain Relief

Last Updated: October 6th, 2023 at 03:51 pm
Read Time: 9 Minutes

Low back pain is a common complaint that gets a lot of attention. But mid-back pain, while less common, can cause a lot of pain and gets much less attention. Most people spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or driving. This puts pressure on our spines which often leads to tight muscles in the mid-back.

The mid-back, also known as the thoracic spine, supports and protects several of our vital organs. It connects the upper spine to the lower spine and helps keep the body upright. Its rigid structure makes it less flexible than the lower part of the spine. This also means that if something happens to the mid-back, it can be harder to treat.

The majority of the middle back and upper back pain is caused by overuse injuries or injuries that develop over time due to poor posture or continuous strain. Continued stress can cause muscle tension which can become a never-ending cycle of worrying over increasing mid-back pain that can affect mood and sleep. The physical therapists at ChiroCare use personalized chiropractic adjustment techniques and therapy to relieve pain.

How to Stretch the Mid Back

There are simple stretches that can help relieve mid-back pain and offer healing for many conditions. However, this area of the body is hard to stretch. It is not flexible like the lower back, and this limited range of motion can make stretching difficult.

The good news is that you don’t need huge, dramatic, deep stretches to get relief. Think of your shoulder blades as flat plates connected to muscles that you can move around your back. This visualization gives you an idea of the amount of movement needed to stretch this area. These exercises can help minimize back pain when bending over, pain upon waking, and throughout the day.

6 Stretches to Relieve Mid Back Pain

If you are feeling mid-back pain, you can get quick relief with over-the-counter medication, ice packs, and therapeutic massage. But these options only provide temporary relief. Adding mid-back stretches to your routine can provide more permanent relief.

Do not start any new exercise or stretching regimen without consulting your primary care physician or chiropractor. When doing the stretches below, pay attention to your breathing, and don’t hold your breath. Inhale on the stretch and exhale as you relax. Another way to think about it is: to inhale lengthen, exhale soften. But remember that these will be micro movements. Incorporate these stretches into your routine gradually to increase flexibility.

As you do these stretches, pay close attention to how you feel. If something doesn’t feel right or causes sharp, stabbing pain, carefully move out of the stretch.

1) Extended Puppy Pose

A combination of yoga’s Downward Facing Dog and Child's Poses, this pose helps lengthen the mid-back and opens up all your thoracic spine muscles.

  • Begin on your hands and knees.
  • Slowly walk your hands out in front of you as you gently lower your upper body down to the ground.
  • Keep your hips over your knees, and place your forehead on the ground.
  • On each exhale, relax further toward the ground.
  • You should feel your side body lengthening.
  • Hold the stretch for 10-20 seconds, building the length as you get stronger.
  • Repeat 2-3 times, again building repetitions as you get stronger.

2) Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

This stretch helps with thoracic spine mobility and improves spinal health. Reduced thoracic mobility affects shoulder movement and causes pain along the entire spine.

  • Start on your hands and knees, making sure your wrists are under your shoulders, hips slightly rocked back, toes turned under.
  • Put your right arm behind your head.
  • On the inhale, rotate your elbow up towards the ceiling, keeping your chest open and your head up.
  • On the exhale, bring your elbow down and across to reach behind the opposite wrist.
  • Repeat 5-10 times on each side.

Variation 1: Place the right hand behind your back instead of your head.

Variation 2: Perform the stretch on your elbows.

3) Half Pancake Stretch

This stretch targets side bending, spinal rotation, and hip flexors, making it a great combination stretch.

  • Begin seated on the floor. Keep one leg straight and bend the other so that your foot is facing you.
  • Bring the same arm as your extended leg toward the ground.
  • Reach your other up for length, and then over the extended leg to stretch your side.
  • Look up to the ceiling to help keep your chest open.
  • Hold the stretch for 10-20 seconds. Go back to starting position and repeat on the other side.

4) Supported Backbend with Bolster (Passive Backbend)

A passive backbend requires very little effort, making it a great stretch to do at the end of a stressful day. You’ll need a rolled-up towel or bolster for this stretch.

  • Place the bolster on the floor and lie on it so that it supports your shoulder blades as they lay across it.
  • Raise your arms over your head.
  • Breathe deeply and relax.
  • Remain in this position, allowing gravity to do its work and not trying to actively stretch for five minutes or more.

Variation: Turn the bolster so that it lies vertically under your spine or add another bolster.

5) Standing Wall Twist

This twist helps open up the side body and the chest.

  • Stand twelve inches from the wall with your inside foot forward.
  • Place your hands on the wall about chest height.
  • Keep your belly button facing forward.
  • Twist your upper body towards the wall as far as it will go.
  • Hold the stretch for 10-20 minutes. Switch sides.

6) Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle opens the shoulder and chest while stretching the arms, back, and neck in a gentle twist.

  • Start on your hands and knees.
  • Keep your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders.
  • As you exhale, slide one arm under your body behind the opposite wrist with the palm up.
  • Lower your shoulder towards the ground with the goal of resting the side of your face on the mat.
  • Keep your hips raised and the opposite elbow lifted without pressing into the palm.
  • Hold for 10-20 seconds on each side.

Find more recommended back stretches here.

Symptoms of Middle Back Pain

Mid-back pain occurs above the bottom of the rib cage and below the neck. There are many ways the bones, ligaments, muscles, and disks that make up the spine can injure or irritate the nerves and cause mid-back pain. Some common mid-back pain symptoms include:

  • Pain either spreads over a large part of the mid-back or is localized to a specific area
  • Discomfort that begins slowly and gradually becomes more intense
  • Pain that worsens with specific positions or activities
  • Pain that can be sharp, dull, or burning will alternate between the three types

In some instances, mid-back pain can signal that a much more serious issue is going on, such as cancer or a disease that affects the lungs, kidneys, or heart. If you have any of the symptoms below, consult a doctor right away:

  • Weakness or numbness in the arms, legs, stomach, or chest
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Pressure or pain in your chest
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Fever

The sudden onset of upper and mid-back pain in women is a common symptom of a heart attack. If this happens to you, contact your doctor immediately.

What Causes Mid-Back Pain?

  • Poor posture
  • Obesity
  • Muscle sprain or strain
  • Fall or another injury
  • Herniated disk
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Aging
  • Fractures

However, the most common causes of mid-back tightness are chronic tension in your body or irritation to the area due to overuse. The tightness and irritation are usually in the soft tissue surrounding your spine, which puts pressure on your vertebrae, causing discomfort. You can address these lifestyle factors by changing your daily routine.

Even something as simple as carrying a backpack or shoulder back can put undue pressure on your muscular system, causing chronic pain. This is an excellent example of overuse, which we often see in those who perform jobs in manual labor. Similarly, if you frequently bend over throughout the day, say stocking shelves, you'll likely experience mid-back pain at some point.

How Should I Sleep If I Have Mid-Back Pain?

How you sleep is crucial to minimizing any kind of back pain. Since we spend approximately 1/3 of our lives in bed, ensuring that your spine has the proper support is vital. Sleeping poorly on a mattress or on one that doesn't adequately support your body can lead to increased pain.

It's best to sleep flat on your back if you have mid-back pain. Since a majority of people are side-sleepers, this can be challenging. To help encourage the correct positioning, using a pillow with strong neck support and placing an additional pillow under your knees can make it more comfortable.

If you still have difficulty remaining on your back throughout the night, there are changes you can make while sleeping on your side. Keep that pillow with the added neck support, and add a rolled towel to place between your waist and the mattress. Place a pillow between your knees. Doing these three things while you sleep can help keep your spine aligned.

Experts often recommend memory foam or latex mattresses for those who experience this kind of pain. Remember, the lifespan of a mattress is between 5 to 10 years, so if you're having issues, it may be time to replace your bedding.

Mid-Back Pain While Pregnant

Pregnancy comes with many aches and pains as your body changes rapidly. Pain you never experienced before can arise, and many women find the second and third trimesters to be the most uncomfortable. Back pain is one of the primary complaints as your center of gravity changes due to your growing belly and the additional weight you're carrying.

The good news is, learning how to stretch your back while pregnant can help relieve some of this tension, and it's completely safe (check with your doctor to make sure, especially if you're high-risk). Many women attend prenatal yoga classes focusing on low-impact mid-back stretching.

Cat to Cow, Child's Pose, and Modified Bridge Pose are all excellent stretches. You should avoid any stretch that features significant back bends or places pressure on your stomach. Other options include simple techniques like slight forward bends while grasping your elbows, rotating your hips while sitting on a large yoga ball, and more. Speak to your chiropractor, prenatal yoga instructor, and OB/GYN for recommendations to help relieve mid-back pain.

If you feel pain, become dizzy, or start to feel weak at any point during stretching, stop immediately and don't begin again until you speak with a professional.

What Causes Mid Back Tightness?

Mid back tightness can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience. It can affect your ability to move freely, perform daily activities, and even lead to pain and discomfort. Here are some common causes of mid back tightness.

  • Poor posture
  • Muscle strain
  • Stress
  • Spinal issues
  • Poor sleeping position
  • Lack of exercise

If you are experiencing mid to low back pain, these stretches can help give you long-term relief. For the best results, incorporate them gradually into your daily routine.

About the Author:
Dr. Steven Schwartz
Raised in Coral Springs, Florida, Dr. Steven Schwartz is a major advocate for the South Florida community. CEO of ChiroCare of Florida, Dr. Schwartz has grown the group from one facility to 11. Whether he’s treating patients or volunteering for community service, Dr. Schwartz’s long-term goal is to ensure that each and every patient can experience the ChiroCare of Florida difference.
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