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Tips for Preventing Upper Back Pain

by Lindsey McFadden

Group of seniors sitting down stretching outdoors

Upper back pain is a drag, but did you know you could reduce your chances of experiencing it? If you’re struggling with this discomfort, getting help from a certified stretch practitioner at a stretching studio will greatly alleviate it. Are you someone who wants to steer clear of an aching upper back? We’re offering some helpful tips for preventing it! 

The upper back is also referred to as the thoracic spine. This is the most stable portion of your thoracic vertebrae because one of its primary responsibilities is to protect your heart, lungs, and everything inside your chest cavity. 

Common Causes of Upper Back Pain 

Back pain is a common concern for Americans that can sometimes interfere with their day-to-day lives. In most cases, upper back pain is caused by problems in a particular muscle or soft tissue. Although it can occur due to many reasons, upper back pain is primarily mechanical. 

Below are some of the main reasons you might be experiencing upper back pain: 

  • Whiplash 
  • Poor posture 
  • Repetitive movements 
  • Contact sports 
  • Wearing an overloaded backpack 

What You Can Do to Prevent Upper Back Pain 

Back pain is difficult to deal with and can be an inconvenience for many. Fortunately, you can take the necessary steps to prevent it from occurring. Are you ready to ward off that discomfort in your upper back for good? Below are some of the best ways to keep yours strong, healthy, and free of pain. 

Practice Good Posture 

Practicing proper posture techniques will not only make you look better, but you’ll feel better as well. When you’re standing, keep your head level, shoulders back, and your stomach pulled in. Most of your weight should be on the balls of your feet while your arms hang down naturally at your sides. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. 

When you’re sitting, make sure to support your back with a backrest or lumbar pillow. Your shoulders shouldn’t be rounded or pulled backward – keep them relaxed. If needed, adjust your chair so that your legs and arms are parallel to the ground and that your feet are flat on the floor. 

Stay Active 

Exercising regularly will help you strengthen your core muscles, back, abdomen, and pelvis. This will allow them to provide adequate support to your back. You never want to start with something that’s high intensity or forces you to overuse your back muscles. Proper posture when you exercise can also ensure you don’t cause any further damage to your back. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight 

Aside from the fact that extra weight can produce problems for your spine and pelvis, it can also weaken your abdominal muscles. Many studies have linked obesity with chronic back issues. You can alleviate some of the pain you’re experiencing by losing the extra pounds. Being more active and eating a well-balanced diet will help. 

Take Breaks 

Upper back pain is generally not a cause for concern, but if you notice some discomfort, rest for a short while. You don’t want to risk injuring yourself by overusing your back muscles, especially if you’re using improper form. Don’t rest for too long, though. Slowly returning to your normal activities is the best thing to do. 

Stop Smoking 

Over the years, researchers have noticed a link between back pain and smoking. This happens due to the smoke impacting your blood flow, degenerating your spine, and impairing your immune function. If you’re noticing annoying back pain and you’re a smoker, take the necessary steps to quit. If you don’t smoke already, do not start. 

Stretch Your Back Muscles 

Stretching is a great way to reduce soreness and stiffness that causes upper back pain. Before you exercise, do some dynamic stretches to warm up your muscles and prepare them for physical activity. Static stretching after exercising will slow delayed onset muscle soreness. 

Stretch Zone practitioner doing a side lateral stretch on female client

Upper Back Stretches That Provide Pain Relief 

Stretching your muscles is good, but it’s essential to perform the proper stretches for your upper back. Other exercises that target the neck and shoulders are also ideal, since upper back pain can result in discomfort in those areas. 

Below are some of the best stretches that target the muscles in your upper back and can help provide you with the relief you need. For better and quicker results, we strongly recommend visiting a stretching studio for a professional stretch session. 

Eagle Pose 

The eagle pose stretches the shoulders and upper back. It’s also helpful for reducing any pain you may be feeling due to sciatica or rheumatism. It also eliminates stress. The eagle pose stretches between the shoulder blades and targets the rhomboids and deltoids. 

Place your arms straight forward and cross them in front of your torso. Your right arm should be above the left, and your elbows should be bent. With your right elbow placed snuggly into the crook of your left one, lift them to the height of your shoulders. Your stretching coach will gently apply pressure so you can feel your upper back opening up. 

Side Lateral Pose 

Not only does this move stretch and strengthen your back, but it’s also great for toning the side of your waist and your stomach. The side lateral pose targets the latissimus dorsi, which is the largest muscle in the upper body. It’s responsible for adduction, extension, internal rotation, and flexion. 

The side lateral pose is a fairly simple move. With your arms raised overhead and your fingers interlocked, your stretching coach will slowly bend your body to the side from the side waist. After holding that position for a few breaths, they’ll straighten you up before repeating on the other side. 

Upper Trapezius Stretch 

Your trapezius is a large muscle in your upper back responsible for moving and rotating your shoulder blades. It also stabilizes your arm and helps extend your neck. The upper trapezius stretch provides a gentle stretch to that area. 

This upper trapezius stretch is another easy move with a lot of benefits. Your stretching coach will slowly take one side of your face and pull your head toward the opposite shoulder. Natural instinct will cause your shoulder to lift, but your stretch practitioner will gently keep their hand there to prevent it from happening. 

Y and W Exercise 

The Y and W exercise is a fun one that’s also great for the upper body! It opens up the chest muscles and strengthens the traps. Doing chest-opening moves like the Y and W can reverse bad posture and create more space around your heart. 

Your stretching coach will guide you into making your arms into the shape of a “W.” Both arms will be bent at around 90 degrees and lowered to your stomach. You’ll need to squeeze your shoulder blades together for the best benefits. After holding the pose for a while, you’ll then make your arms into the shape of a “Y” by extending them up. 

Open Book Stretch 

This move allows you to mobilize and open your upper body. It’s a great go-to for those dealing with shoulder, neck, or scapula pain. Performing the open book stretch often enough can help prevent pain or injuries in those areas. 

Begin on your side for this move. Your arms should be extended in front of you. Your stretching coach will raise your top hand toward the ceiling and slowly open your arms all the way out. You should be looking over your opposite shoulder. Your hips should stay still throughout the movement to get the feel-good stretch throughout your upper body. 

Butterfly Wings 

The butterfly wings help loosen the muscles between your shoulders, reducing stiffness in the upper back. For those who slouch often, this move is great for eliminating the stiffness you feel. It could even correct your posture to prevent other issues in the future. 

You’ll begin by lying on your back for this pose. Your fingertips should be touching the top of your shoulders with your elbows pointed out to the side. Your stretching coach will slowly bring your elbows back until they’re touching or almost touching. 

Stretch Zone practitioner doing an upper body stretch on male senior

Why is Upper Back Pain Less Common Than Lower Back Pain? 

Upper back pain isn’t as common as lower back pain because the bones don’t flex or move nearly as much as those in your lower back. Upper back pain is more likely to occur due to joint dysfunction, muscular irritation, or experiencing blunt force. Your upper back is also stronger and not as flexible as the lower back. 

Ways to Test for Upper Back Pain 

You can diagnose upper back pain by getting several kinds of tests or scans. Knowing the exact cause of what’s causing your pain can help determine the best way to relieve it. Not only that, but it can also prevent you from doing the wrong thing and making your back pain even worse! 

Below are some of the common advanced tests you can take at your doctor’s office to see where the pain is coming from and what you can do to resolve the issue. 

  • MRI or CT scans – shows problems with bones and soft tissues 
  • Blood Tests – shows infections or other abnormalities 
  • DEXA Tests – measures your bone mineral density 
  • Nerve Studies – reveals if you have a compressed nerve 

How Can Assisted Stretching Help with Your Upper Back Pain? 

A professional at a stretching studio can give you incredible benefits when it comes to your back pain. Firstly, you know you’ll be doing the stretch correctly when you’re under a practitioner’s supervision. They’re also trained to isolate the muscles and target specific problem areas. This allows you to get a deeper stretch for more benefits. 

The advantages of assisted stretching go beyond physical ones! When your muscles can’t relax, it’s hard for you to relax. Stretching with a professional can allow you to breathe deeply, which helps you learn to decrease your stress. 

Finally, assisted stretching can help you to become more flexible and increase your athletic performance. You’ll have a better range of motion as well. 

Ways to Tell When Upper Back Pain is Serious 

You shouldn’t worry too much about upper back pain unless serious side effects occur. Surgery is rarely needed unless there’s a more complex issue, and if you do not see improvement after making the necessary lifestyle changes. 

If any of the following things are happening along with your upper back pain, it may be more severe than you think, and you might need to seek medical attention. 

Intensified Pain When You Move 

Pain that gets worse when you move could result in a vertebral bone or rib breaking. This is common after having a bad injury like a slip and fall. You’ll need to see your doctor if this is happening with you because delaying treatment could cause more concerns in the future. 

Weak Legs 

Upper back pain, along with weak legs, could be the result of a herniated disc. This neurologic injury occurs when you incorrectly lift a heavy object. You might also feel numbness or weakness in your arms if you have a herniated disc. A physical examination can determine the diagnosis and best treatment plan. 

You Have a Fever 

Most people don’t associate being sick with back pain, but if your back pain is accompanied by a fever, it could be the result of a spinal infection. Your doctor will need to take x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI to get an accurate diagnosis. Those who are immunosuppressed, obese, or have cancer or diabetes are most at risk of getting a spinal infection. 

There’s Pain in Your Chest 

Once your upper back pain begins to radiate to your chest, it’s time to see a doctor. Back pain that also causes chest pain can be a sign of a stroke if you’re also experiencing weakness or numbness in your arms. If you’re feeling fatigued, it could mean you’re having a heart attack. Both of these concerns require immediate medical care. 

Visit the Best Stretch Studio for Upper Back Pain 

Your best stretches for upper back pain are waiting to happen at Stretch Zone. Our team of stretch practitioners is dedicated to your health and wellness. When you tell us about the issues you’re having, we’ll be able to develop the best treatment plan for you so you can be back up and running in no time. Book your FREE 30-minute session today! 

Assisted stretching practitioner doing an upper body stretch on senior male

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