4 Exercises to Help Reduce Middle-Back Pain, According to a Physical Therapist

sport woman feel pain on neck and shoulder
Getty Images | Shih Wei Wang / EyeEm
Getty Images | Shih Wei Wang / EyeEm

Ready for a startling statistic? According to the American Chiropractic Association, 80 percent of the population will experience back pain at some point in their lives. The lower-back is commonly plagued (if you've ever cursed at your desk chair, you know firsthand), but it's not the only area of the back that's deemed with discomfort. Meet middle-back pain.

What is middle-back pain?

According to Tony Matoska, PT, DPT, CMPT at Athletico Physical Therapy, middle-back pain can "range in location from the base of the neck or tops of the shoulder blades down to your back around the level of your belly button."

Often paired with the descriptor "upper-back pain," the University of Michigan Health Center said this is the area of the thoracic spine.

The discomfort can be felt in a specific location of the mid-back, but Matoska said it can also extend through a large area of the back, depending on the condition causing the pain — which can actually many different things. The issue is also more common in females, too.

What causes middle-back pain?

Dr. Santhosh Thomas, DO, MBA, at the Center For Spine Health at Cleveland Clinic, explained that the most common causes of middle-back pain are in relation to muscles, ligaments, and joints.

The pain, he said, "can start at almost any age based on activities that lead to it — sports, overuse, trauma, etc."

Your job could also put you at risk for middle-back pain. According to Matoska, those who require sitting for prolonged periods of time or repetitive heavy lifting could contribute toward the issue. Of course, a visit to your doctor is the only way to get an expert confirmation on what's behind your pain.

How do you prevent middle-back pain?

There are things you can do in your day-to-day life to help reduce this type of pain or prevent it from happening.

Dr. Thomas suggested working on your posture, working on core strength and exercising regularly, eliminating overuse, and knowing your own personal limits — another reminder to listen to your body.

There are also a few exercises you can work into your routine to help reduce middle-back pain, though you should check with a doctor before starting a new program.

Matoska suggested using a foam roller to stretch (though if a fracture is present, skip it!), as well as performing the four moves ahead.

Open Books

  • Lay on your side with your knees bent to 90 degrees and your bottom hand holding your knees.
  • Place your top hand on the back of your neck, then slowly reach your elbow and shoulder behind you toward the floor.
  • Make sure to keep your legs on the floor and hips facing forward.
  • Perform 30 reps twice daily for seven days a week.

Thread the Needle

  • Begin on all fours.
  • Place one hand on the back of your neck.
  • Slowly rotate your trunk up and backward on the same side as your bent arm.
  • Then, rotate your trunk back down, reaching your elbow under your other arm.
  • Repeat this movement.
  • Make sure not to arch your lower back as you rotate your trunk.
  • Perform three sets of 10 reps twice daily for seven days a week.

Thoracic Extension Mobilization on Foam Roller

  • Begin lying with your upper back on a foam roller and hands clasped behind your neck.
  • Let your back relax and head drop toward the floor.
  • Pause briefly, then return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Make sure not to let your hips rise up off the floor.
  • Perform 10 reps once daily.

Prone Chest Stretch on Chair

  • Begin kneeling in front of a chair.
  • Rest your arms on the chair, crossed on top of each other.
  • Bending at your hips and keeping your arms on the chair, lower your trunk toward the ground until you feel a stretch in the front of your chest, and hold for 30 seconds.
  • Make sure not to arch your lower back during the stretch.
  • Perform three sets twice daily for seven days a week.

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