5 Stretches for Mid Back Pain

Often the mid back gets tight from prolonged hours of sitting. So many of the activities that we perform on a regular basis revolve around sitting. Driving, working a desk job, watching our favorite show, and even when we eat. All of these activities can lead to tightness and pain in the mid back. 


The problem arises when we are lacking positional variability. The human body is designed to be upright and moving through a variety of different positions and postures throughout the day. Instead many of us spend countless hours in the one position that Americans do best, sitting. 


What is middle back pain a symptom of? 


Over time gravity begins to round our shoulders and hunch our mid back forward. This constant and prolonged force rounding us forward contributes to mid back tightness and limits the opposite motion or what we call extension. Frequently leading to mid back or mid lower back pain. 


The mid back or thoracic spine is a significant cause of many common joint problems. 

Some common joint problems that can be caused by a tight mid back include:

  • Shoulder impingement syndrome 
  • Carpal tunnel 
  • Chronic low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches 


The thoracic spine is simply one of the most important areas in the human body to maintain excellent mobility. Through just a couple simple stretches you can be sure to keep your mid back moving well which will keep you free from many common joint problems. 


Maintaining good joint mobility in every direction is critical to keep our joints happy and healthy. Because of the above listed daily habits many of us could benefit from stretches for mid back pain. 


To learn more please visit https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/musculoskeletal-and-rheumatology/2017/november/back-pain-on-one-side


How do I know if I need to stretch my mid back? 


The only way to know for sure if these exercises are right for you, is to have a detailed movement screen performed by a skilled therapist. 

We offer local Physical Therapy in Destin Florida. 

Not in the area? We also offer Virtual Physical Therapy or Telehealth appointments online. 


Here are 5 stretches for mid back pain. 


     1. Foam Roller AAROM Extension 


The foam roller is a great tool to help unlock your movement potential. By simply laying on top of the roll and bending over it at each tight level of your thoracic spine you will be certain to move better and feel better. This is one of those exercises that just makes you feel good when you’re done. 


Be very careful to NOT do this exercise on your low back or neck. The target zone is from the bottom of the ribs to the base of the neck. Consider spending more time at the level of your spine that you feel is the tightest. As always if the exercise is painful try modifying for your comfort. If it is still painful then it is very possible that this exercise is not for you. 


       2. Spinal Flex

This is an exercise I learned from my exposure to yoga. Though I wish I would have been exposed to it sooner in my physical therapy career as this exercise has tremendous power to improve your mid back mobility. 


One of the many reasons I enjoy prescribing this exercise is due to the added benefit of this being a mobility and a motor control exercise. We can move to improve our joint mobility all day but if we don’t follow that up with a motor control exercise then we are likely to lose that mobility over time.


An overly simplistic way to understand motor control is to think of it as your muscle strength. We need a certain level of muscle “strength” in order to stabilize our joints and allow us to move effectively. We can have all the mobility in the world but it is worthless without adequate motor control. 


The spinal flex not only improves your mid back mobility but it also improves your motor control to better hold yourself upright. The added benefit of the breathwork which helps to improve your mid back mobility as well as having a systemic effect for stress management. 



     3. Updog/Cobra Pose


Another common yoga pose is up dog. Inspired by the stretches we commonly see from our furry friends. Similar to the spinal flex above, the updog also incorporates a motor control component. Also with a few subtle tweaks the emphasis can be placed on the mid back as posed to the low back. 


Start by lying face down with your palms pressed firmly into the floor just outside of your shoulders while keeping elbows tight towards your body. Attempted to lift through your sternum while pressing through your hands. Push up far enough to clear your chest from the floor. This can also be an effective mobility exercise for mid lower back pain. 


If you feel tightness or pinching in your low back try these tips. 


  • Attempt to lift through the sternum as opposed to arching through the low back. 
  • consider driving your elbows/hands towards your body while attempting to feel the stretch in your mid back. 
  • If you continue to feel discomfort in the low back maybe this is not the best exercise for your body. Time to consider others on the list. 


     4. Cat/Cow


I swear not all of these stretches are inspired by yoga but here is another example. The cat cow pose is one of the excellent stretches for mid back pain. With these couple pointers you will be able to place the emphasis on stretching your mid back into extension. 


By slowly moving through each individual vertebra you ensure proper segmental movement of your spine. Having adequate control of all your joints, including each spinal level, will unlock untapped movement potential. 


In the cow position focus on driving your mid back down towards the floor as opposed to excessively arching your low back. A common cue that I use is to lift through your chest as opposed to arching through your low back. This exercise is nice as it can be performed in a very stable environment (hands and knees) and in a safe manner. 


     5. Side Lying Thoracic Rotations 


Sometimes by improving joint mobility in other planes of motion, as this stretch focuses on rotation, it will loosen up other motions in your mid back. Here we are working to improve your mid back rotation which often improves what we call extension or bending backwards. 


This is likely the easiest stretch on the list as it can be performed in the comfort of your bed before you get up in the morning. The critical component here is bringing the knees as far as possible up towards the chest. By doing so the low back is protected. 


Often low back pain is driven by excessive movement and stress in the low back. Limiting the movement in the low back also ensures that the majority of the stretch is targeted to the mid back. 


Once the knees are all the way up towards the chest take your top arm straight out the side and begin to slowly rotate. The goal here is to bring the back of the shoulder towards the surface you are lying on. Slow deep breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth often facilitates a greater stretch. 


Next Step?


This free information is in no way intended to take the place of a detailed movement screen and precise exercise intervention. If you continue to have tightness or pain in your mid back, please contact a local physical therapist.


If we can be of further assistance please call/text/email for your in person Physical Therapy in Destin Florida. 

Not in the area? We also offer Virtual Physical Therapy or Telehealth appointments online. 


Please see our other content at healixtherapy.com/blog 


Be well, 

Robert Linson, PT, AFS, FMR, TPS

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