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Lots of things can cause upper back pain. Often it’s because of poor posture. But sometimes the cause isn’t known – this is caused non-specific back pain. Upper back pain may be caused by an injury or straining a muscle or ligament. Some conditions can cause upper back pain, such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis.
See our Causes of upper back pain section for more information.
Here are some good stretches you can do for your upper back, particularly if you spend a lot of your workday sitting at a desk.
Sitting back extensions
- Sit straight with your feet together.
- Put the palms of your hands into the small of your back.
- Lean back over your hands, feeling your lower back stretch out.
Shoulder extension – one
- Stand up and stretch your arms out behind you.
- Clasp your hands together and gently lift your arms.
- You should feel the pressure in your shoulders ease off.
Shoulder extension – two
- Hold both arms above your head.
- Link your hands with your palms facing upwards.
- Reach as high as possible.
- You should feel your shoulders stretching.
Some good exercises for your upper back include the following. Try doing 3–4 sets of 10 repetitions, three times a week. This will help strengthen your back and prevent pain coming back.
- Lie on the floor (on a yoga mat, if you have one) face down with your arms stretched out in front of you.
- Engage your core (tighten your tummy muscles) and lift your arms and shoulders up off the floor.
- At the same time lift your legs, keeping them as straight as you can.
- Hold for a moment and then lower back down to the floor.
Bent-over dumbbell row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your knees soft.
- Bend forward from your hips keeping your back straight and your core strong.
- At the same time extend your arms forward so you’re holding the weights out in front of you.
- Pull your elbows back and up, keeping your back straight and your core strong.
- You should feel a squeeze between your shoulder blades.
- Lie on the floor face down and place your hands on the floor either side and in line with your chest. Use a yoga mat.
- Your elbows should be pointing up towards the ceiling.
- Push up so that your chest is lifted.
- Keep your neck straight and in line with your back.
- It might help to look forward to a point on the floor out in front of you.
- You should feel the stretch in your back.
- Hold for a few seconds and then lower yourself back down to the start position.
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This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals and deemed accurate on the date of review. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.
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