Certain stretches can help relieve mid-back pain or stiffness and improve flexibility. Examples include the seated twist and various yoga poses, such as Child’s Pose, Cat-Cow Pose, and Thread the Needle.
Various lifestyle factors, medical conditions, and injuries can lead to pain in the middle back.
Symptoms of mid back pain can include:
- short, sharp pains
- a dull, constant ache
- muscle tightness or stiffness
- a reduced range of motion
The following eight stretches are easy to do at home or in the office, and they can help relieve pain in the middle of the back, loosen tight muscles, and improve mobility.
It is best for a person to contact a doctor for advice before beginning any exercises for mid back pain. Some exercises may not be suitable for everybody.
Postures that involve a lot of sitting with hunched shoulders
The seated twist stretch can help stretch out back muscles and gradually increase the range of movement in both directions.
To perform the seated twist:
- Sit tall with legs crossed or straight out in front while pulling the shoulder blades together and down.
- Place the right hand on the outside of the left knee and place the left hand behind the back to provide support. Slowly twist to the left side.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds and then return to center.
- Repeat on the other side.
Child’s Pose is a simple yoga pose. It allows the spine to elongate passively while the person rests over their knees.
To perform Child’s Pose:
- Start in a kneeling position.
- Spread the knees apart to a comfortable point. Then fold the body forwards, bringing the chest down towards the knees.
- If possible, bring the forehead to the floor, with the arms stretched out in front. The hands should gently rest on the floor, keeping the arms straight.
- Rest here for 5–10 breaths.
- Use the hands to gently return to an upright position.
Thread the Needle is a yoga pose that stretches the sides of the body, including the latissimus dorsi. This stretch can also help loosen the muscles of the upper back.
To get the most benefit, focus on keeping the arms extended outward and maintaining a stretch that is comfortable, not painful.
To perform Thread the Needle:
- Start on hands and knees, with the knees directly below the hips and the feet in line with the knees.
- Keeping the hips, knees, and feet still, walk the hands out in front until they are below the shoulders.
- Take the right arm and pass it under the left arm while rotating the chest. The right hand should rest on the floor, palm up.
- Lower the right shoulder as far as possible while gently placing the right side of the head onto the floor. Look past the armpit toward the ceiling.
- Hold this position for 20–30 seconds.
- Push upward, using the right arm to gently return to the starting position before repeating on the other side.
Like Child’s Pose, Cat-Cow Pose is another gentle yoga exercise. It helps stretch and loosen the shoulders and the muscles that run the length of the spine.
To perform Cat-Cow Pose:
- Start on hands and knees, with the knees below the hips and the wrists below the shoulders. The spine should be in a neutral position.
- Breathe in, let the stomach drop toward the ground, and stick the buttocks out. Lift the head and shoulders, push the chest out, and look forward. This is the Cow Pose.
- Breathe out and arch the back upward like a cat. Tilt the pelvis toward the ribs, drawing the shoulder blades away from each other and the belly away from the ground. Let the head drop toward the floor.
- Shift between these for around 30–60 seconds.
Downward-Facing Dog is another yoga pose that engages the core and back muscles.
To perform Downward-Facing Dog:
- Start on all fours with the hands shoulder-width apart and the shoulders above the wrist.
- Lift the knees and drive through the forefoot to extend the legs straight, allowing the hips to rise.
- Push through the hands and fully extend into an inverted-V shape.
- Hold the pose for 10 seconds and return to the starting position in a controlled descent.
- Repeat 5–7 times.
This yoga pose focuses on active back bending. People with mid back pain may find that they cannot go very far at first.
Back bending helps stretch the chest while strengthening the spine muscles.
To perform Cobra Pose:
- Lay face-down on the floor. Extend the legs, with the tops of the feet resting on the floor.
- Place the hands under the shoulders, with the fingertips pointing forward. Bend the elbows and tuck the arms into the body.
- Engage the buttocks and leg muscles to help push the legs and feet into the floor.
- Breathe out. Push up, using the arms, to gently lift the head, then the chest from the floor.
- If possible, bend the back more by straightening the arms and lifting the chest further from the floor. Some people are not able to do this — only go as far as is comfortable.
- Hold this position for 3–5 breaths. Then, gently return to the floor and repeat the stretch two to four times.
Bridge Pose can strengthen the muscles that run along the spine as well as those in the buttocks and abdomen. Performing this stretch regularly can help a person maintain an upright posture while sitting or standing.
To perform Bridge Pose:
- Lie on the back with the knees bent.
- Rest the flat on the floor, as close to the buttocks as possible.
- Squeezing the buttocks, raise the pelvis toward the ceiling, while rolling the torso upward until the back is off the ground.
- Hold for 10–30 seconds and continue to focus on squeezing the buttocks.
- Gently lower the torso, slowly letting each vertebra touch the floor until the back rests flat again.
- Repeat as needed.
This simple pose can bring relief after sitting at a desk all day. It stretches the scalene neck muscles, the serratus muscles, and the chest.
The passive backbend involves placing a supporting object beneath the back, such as a back roller, a foam noodle, or a rolled-up towel or yoga mat.
To perform the exercise:
- Place the roll on the floor.
- Lie on the roll so that it rests beneath the shoulder blades, near the middle of the back. Place something under the head if it also needs elevation.
- Bring the arms away from the body, resting at a 45-degree angle.
- Hold this position for 1–2 minutes.
Besides stretching, some other simple steps that can help relieve pain and reduce or prevent reoccurrence
- taking over-the-counter pain relief medication
- applying heat therapy to increase blood flow
- applying cold therapy to relieve pain
- avoiding sitting or lying still for too long
- adopting proper posture techniques
- other exercises
A person’s doctor can advise on more ways to manage pain in the middle of the back.
Regularly stretching the middle back can loosen and strengthen muscles to help improve posture and reduce back pain. Stretches and yoga poses that may help include seated twists, Child’s Pose, Cat-Cow Pose, Downward-Facing Dog, Thread the Needle, Cobra Pose, Bridge Pose, and passive backends.
A person’s doctor can provide more information on ways they can manage back pain. This might include taking medication, adjusting their posture, and using hot or cold therapy.