Should I Work Out with Upper Back Pain? How to Relieve It with Exercises

Should I Work Out with Upper Back Pain?

We sometimes engage in various lifestyle activities that strain our upper back muscles and ligaments, like poor posture, wearing an overloaded backpack, and carrying heavy loads. So, sometimes we ask ourselves: Should I work out with upper back pain?

Working out helps to alienate your upper back pain by preparing your muscles, relieving stress and anxiety, and improving your posture and range of motion. The right workout exercises and routine will go a long way in helping you ease this pain.

This article will discuss in detail if you should work out with back pain and how you can relieve this pain with exercises. So sit back, relax, and read on to find out more.

Should I Work Out With Upper Back Pain?    

Yes, you should. Physiotherapists today suggest that regular exercises are a natural way of shaking off your upper back pain. These exercises will engage your trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and rhomboids muscles in your upper back. 

However, the common reason for experiencing pain in your upper back is the musculoskeletal strain. Working out helps to alienate your upper back pain through:

● Preparing your muscles

● Relieving stress and anxiety

● Improving your posture

● Improving your range of motion.

What Can Cause Upper Back Strain?

Upper back pain can cause a lot of discomforts. Upper back pain is caused by strains/sprains on muscles and soft tissue injuries resulting from poor posture or carrying heavy weights. These muscles and ligaments connect to your spine. 

Upper back pain is common, especially for individuals who feel stressed. Some people feel some upper back pain due to spending more time over their desktops. If you do so, then foam rolling, trigger, and massages will help you. However, exercise is the best for lengthening your upper back muscles.

Some of the activities that cause upper back strain include:

● Poor posture

● Twisting

● Poor weight lifting

● Contact sports involving the upper back

● Carrying heavy weights and loads

● Carrying an overloaded backpack on one shoulder

Sometimes you may hurt your upper back without your knowledge. If so, you should always look out for pain in your back, tightness/stiffness, sensitivity to touch, pain in the lower back, and pain down your legs.

Before deciding on the relief exercise you can do, let’s take a look at the muscles these exercises will impact.

● Trapezius- It is diamond in shape and found in the upper, middle, and lower parts of the back

● Rhomboids- Act as connectors between the shoulder blades and the spine

● Latissimus dorsi- It’s wing-shaped. Dominant in exercises like pull-ups and lats pulldowns.

● Pectorals- Located across the chest and have an impact on the upper back mainly.

● Rotator cuff- Involves four muscles, Infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor. Provide stability to the other upper back muscles like shoulder muscles.

● Serratus anterior- Located around the rib cage; pulls the shoulder blades forward.

Upper Back Pain Relief Exercises

The most natural way to relieve pain off your back is by doing upper back exercises. This article highlights some of the exercises that you may want to include in your regular workout routine.

1. Cat-Cow Pose

The Cat-Cow pose is one of the most recommended exercises if you have some discomfort in your upper back. This exercise results in a movement of the spine and the back of your shoulder. It aids in maintaining an upright posture. This exercise is simple to perform.

First, place your hands below your shoulders and ensure the knees are directly below your hips. (Table pose).

Slowly move your back upwards while pushing your shoulders down. To get the cat pose, you have to drop your head to the chest. You should maintain the cat for some minutes before returning to the starting position. Drop the lower back towards the floor while gently moving the head back.

Ensure that both the chin and nose point upwards. Maintain the same posture for some minutes and return to the table pose to repeat the whole sequence. Apart from relieving the upper back pain, the Cat-Cow exercise can help you eliminate your lower back pain.

This exercise will allow room for the lengthening of your overworked muscles by bringing a full sine flexion.

Check how this is done in the video below:

2. Child pose

This simple exercise is the one that most people get wrong and inflict more pain to their backs. To get this right, follow the instructions below. Just like the cat-cow pose exercise, you should place your hands below your shoulders. This time, however, your big toes should be close to each other.

● Slowly lower your hips towards the surface while placing the buttocks on top of the feet.

● You should then stretch your arms in front and touch the floor with your palms.

● Maintain the same posture for some minutes- Your breathing should be normal.

This exercise has been modified in different forms to further help with your upper back pain. You could choose to stretch your right arm forward while moving the left arm under the right arm and to the sides. While at this, rotate your head to face the arm.

It will help alleviate your upper back pain by pulling and stretching the spine away from your shoulders. If you ask any of the yoga instructors, they will tell you that you should always consider including this exercise at the end of your daily workout routine.

Check the video below for more tips:

3. Plank

Earlier on, we mentioned that keeping an upright posture is crucial to relieving your back pain. The plank is the perfect exercise to help with your core strength. It will help you target your muscles while stabilizing your shoulders.  Besides, it will help you hold a neutral spine, an element essential for alleviating upper back pain.

It will reduce the stress you insert on your spine and back when sitting. It’s simple to perform plank exercises. You can perform planks with your hands or elbows. If you want to do an improved plank, lift one of your hands off the surface and then rotate the arm in the direction of the roof before repeating the whole exercise.

Experts suggest that if you decide to do planks, do them regularly and correctly to relieve your upper back pain. Wrong planking can cause stress to the spine. Planking a day keeps the spine doctor away!

You can check how it is done in the video below:

4. Push-ups (wall push-ups)

Some of you might not agree with me on this but what you don’t know is that push-ups can also stabilize your shoulders.

● You can do push-ups on your toes, knees, or hands on the bench.

● Bend your arms slowly with your chest moving toward the surface.

● Take some time before pushing back to straight arms. Maintaining a tight core throughout your routine exercise is essential.

See how to do push-ups in the video below:

5. Trunk Rotation

Below is the proper way of doing a trunk rotation:

● You should lie back with your feet flat and knees bent.

● Rotate the knees to the right or left gently (keep the knees bent at all time)

● Maintain the position for some seconds and again repeat.

Check out how it is done in the video below:

6. Neck flexion

You can include this exercise in your warm-ups. It will help you loosen up any tight muscles by reducing pressure on the spine. When performing this exercise, ensure you keep your eyes facing forward the whole time.

To perform this:

● Stand or sit in an upright posture

● Drop the chin towards your chest- it is important to stop if you feel any discomfort.

● Move your ear towards the right shoulder by rolling your head

● Keep the chin down, move the left ear near your left shoulder, and maintain the position for some seconds.

● So long as there is no mesolectal strain, keep rotating your head to each shoulder.

Check out how to perform this exercise in the video below:

7. Overhead Arm Reach

Performing upper back exercises in the right manner will help you reduce pain in your upper back.

Here is what you should do:

● Begin in a sitting and standing position.

● Stretch your arms above the head

● Lean towards the right while both arms are stretched upwards. You should use the right hand to pull the left arm towards the right.

● Return to the starting position and repeat the same process.

Check out how to do this in the video below:

8. Infraspinatus exercise

This type of exercise is essential to keep your posture straight. It involves the external shoulder rotators. It will help improve your muscles’ strength and lift heavier loads while maintaining a stronger shoulder position.

Check out how to do this exercise in the video below:

9. Reverse fly

You can sometimes choose to use a dumbbell when performing this exercise. The exercise targets the rhomboid muscles in your upper back of the shoulder region. Rhomboids are crucial in providing the connection between your shoulder blades and the spine.

To perform the reverse fly:

● Make use of an anchored resistance band while you are in a standing position.

● Pull your arms back (your elbows should be straight)

● Maintain this for some seconds and make sure to keep your hands level with the shoulder height. The reverse fly will help strengthen the muscles at the back of your shoulder.

Check out how to perform this exercise in the video below:

10. Thoracic Extension

To perform this exercise correctly, you will need a yoga block or foam roller.

Below is what you need to do:

● First, sit on the floor.-Place the yoga block or foam roller on the surface behind the body. You should lie down to support the upper back area. This helps with the thoracic spine muscles. (Avoids putting a strain on them)

● Your buttocks should be on the surface, whereas the hands are supporting the head and neck from the back

● If you want to perform a deeper stretch, you should extend your arms above your head while leaning towards the back.

● Take a deep breath to ensure normal breathing as you wait for your shoulder muscles to relax.

This exercise requires you to stand with your right/ left side facing a wall. Ensure that you bend your right/left arm towards the elbow. Your forearm should be placed against the wall at all times while the upper arm is straight. (Forms a 90 degrees angle). 

Afterward, take a forward step gently with the right foot and twist towards the left or vice versa.

This allows room for the right shoulder and upper back of your body to stretch. Maintain the posture for some seconds before repeating the whole exercise all again.

Check out how to do this in the video below:

11. Upper back muscles strengthening exercises

Several exercises help to strengthen the upper back muscles and therefore give relief to upper back pain. They are:

● Standing shoulder Exercise

Common for its tendencies to strengthen the lats, this exercise will be ideal for you. The lats are wing-shaped- for bodybuilders and sportsmen, they can be seen as spread out from the back. When performing an exercise, you will feel the lats making a downwards pulling motion as the one experienced when performing pull-ups.

The exercise also offers shoulder extension if the arm is pulled towards the back of your body. Most experts will recommend that you do eight reps in three sets. (8reps*3 sets).

Check how to do this in the video below:

● Ostrich exercise

You can perform this exercise while you are sited if your upper back pain hurts a lot. It will help you exercise what many people term as the most crucial muscles in an individual’s upper back.  It controls both the neck and upper shoulder muscles which are responsible for an upright posture.

The deep neck flexors are worked and will help hold your head in correct alignment to your neck.  If you have persistent upper back pain/ neck pain, this exercise is ideal for you. Most of those who seek help from doctors and physiotherapists claim that this is the highly recommended exercise to carry out.

Check how to do this in the video below:

● Side plank

You should always do at least one full set with three reps for this exercise. You will find out that it’s a unique plank exercise that exercises your core muscles on the side of your body trunk. 

Besides, the oblique muscles and muscles around your shoulder girdle will also be exercised. It’s simple to do. Just like other plank exercises, you need to have one of your feet and hands on the surface for proper balancing as you raise the other foot and hand in the air.

Check how to do this in the video below:

● Standing shoulder pull me

You should do at least 8 reps in 3 sets. It’s a type of rowing exercise that will mainly target your upper back and back of your shoulder muscles. Even though it seems pretty simple, it’s quite amusing how many people keep doing it wrong. 

If you want to do it perfectly, ensure that you engage in feeling the muscles contracting. This will be due to the squeezing in of the shoulder blades, especially at the end of each pull and before releasing back towards the wall.

Check how this is done in the video below:

Stretches exercises for the upper back muscles:

● Pectoral stretch

Before you embark on performing exercise beware that too much tightening of the pectoral muscles can rotate your shoulders hence causing a rounded posture. If you work for long periods over your desktop, this should be your type of exercise.

To perform it:

Stand in front of a door, place your hands slightly above your head, and slowly lean forward until you feel a stretching effect in your shoulder front.

Check how it is done in the video below:

● Trapezius stretch

Despite being the simplest form of exercise you can find, they are also very effective. You just have to tilt your ear downwards and towards your shoulder gently. However, you may resort to doing a modified stretch by applying pressure and sitting on your hand. You should always ensure that your shoulders stay away from the ear.

Keep in mind that this exercise is best for relieving tension in your cervical spine. Its stretching effect stretches both the back muscles and your torso. Its primary focus is the upper shoulder blades and aligns your neck with your head.

Check how it is done in the video below:

● Stretch between shoulder blades exercises

Sometimes the muscles between the shoulder blades can be quite tight and painful. However, a gentle stretch exercise can be a good way of lengthening them. Poor posture can be the reason for your stiff pain between your shoulder blades.

You could also try body rolling exercises where you roll the shoulders forward and back until there is a reduction in stiffness.  Some experts say that linking the hands behind your head and pulling your arms gently downward is the key to reducing upper back pain.

Check out how it is done in the video below:

Final Words

To sum, your posture is vital in determining if you will experience upper back pain. If you are experiencing upper back pains, you can continue to work out. In fact, workouts help you relieve the pain you are experiencing.

The upper back exercises suggested above will go a long way in keeping your back great. So why not include them in your normal workout routine?  

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James Wright

James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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