• Dr. James Fonner

Mid Back Stretches: What to Know

Mid-back pain and stiffness can significantly impact a person's daily life. However, some stretches can improve flexibility and relieve pain. Typically, middle back pain is short-term and a common medical complaint within the United States. Many lifestyle factors, injuries, and medical conditions can cause middle back pain.


Symptoms of mid-back pain can include:

  • Dull, constant aches

  • Short and sharp pains

  • Reduced range of motion

  • Muscle stiffness or tightness


Why middle back stretches matter

Reasons to Perform Middle Back Stretches


Though most people think that middle back pain is just upper back pain, it relates to the inflammation within the spinal thoracic region. This area runs from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage and isn't designed to move very much.


There is good news for those who suffer from pain in the back muscles. Because the thoracic spine doesn't move the way the lower and upper spine does, the discs don't see the same wear and tear. Therefore, middle back pain doesn't often originate within the spine and comes down to muscle strains in the upper back and lower back. This also makes it much easier to relieve pain in the area and keep it from returning. Plus, it's possible to improve mobility.


Perfect the Posture

In most cases, poor posture plays a role in developing pain in the middle back muscles. When a person spends much of their time sitting at a computer, the shoulders get rounded, and the back muscles are then forced to work harder to support the neck and shoulders. They can get so fatigued that when working out or lifting something, that extra movement can do significant damage.


It's important to find the right posture, which means sitting up tall in the desk chair. Pull back the shoulder blades as far as possible and then come forward just a bit. This is the sweet spot.


Stretch the Chest

Sitting straight isn't as easy as people believe. If the back and shoulders are rounded for months or even years, the chest muscles are bound to be very tight. This forces the person into a more hunched over position, and the cycle repeats itself. The stretches listed below can help the chest open up and relax.


Work out any Knots

When the back is worn out, there could be pain in the fascia, which is the connective tissue covering every muscle. Foam-rolling, massage, and even the graston tool can help with this, as well as the stretches listed below.


Strengthen the Lower Back

It's important not to subject the muscles to more work when they're already fatigued. However, once there's been relief through stretching, massages, and the like, it's easier to strengthen the muscles in the back to correct posture and eliminate back pain once and for all. Make sure that the stretch is performed correctly and that the strengthening work happens when the body is relaxed.


Why you should stretch regularly

Why It's Important to Stretch


The spine is very complex and is comprised of ligaments, bones, tendons, and muscles. It's supposed to move front/back and side to side, but it also carries most of the body's weight. Therefore, it's important to stretch it frequently and keep it in good condition.


When a person can stretch regularly, the ligaments and muscles stay flexible. This reduces joint stress, which can cause crepitus, and can improve blood flow so that more nutrients get to the body. Without a good stretch now and then, limited movement, stiffness, and pain can happen or increase in frequency.


A stretch is the best way to prepare the muscles for exercise and activities, such as playing sports or doing aerobics. This is why stretch exercises should be performed before/after workouts to prevent soreness and strain and avoid an injury.


Tips for Stretching


To get the most benefit from the stretch, it's important to use the right techniques. This also helps to avoid injuries. Keep these tips in mind when performing any stretch:

  • Start with the neck and work every muscle group throughout the body. That way, the stretched muscles are then used for strength.

  • Make sure to stretch gently and slowly and only go to the point of slight tension. Don't stretch into pain.

  • Hold every stretch for about 10 to 20 seconds without bouncing. Some stretches can last 30 seconds or longer.

  • Breathe deeply during each stretch. Inhale before it and exhale while performing it.

  • Stretch each part of the body for the same amount of time. Typically, one set of three to five stretches is plenty. However, as flexibility increases, so can the repetitions.

  • Consider stretching every day, but at least do it two to three times each week.


Types of stretches you can learn today

Types of Mid-Back Stretch Options


Pain in the mid-back can keep a person from functioning throughout their day. It's hard to turn the neck to check oncoming traffic or bend down to pick something up. These stretches are by-far the best options. Make sure to read through each one and do it correctly to avoid aggravating the back any more.


Seated Twist

The seated twist stretch determines how tight the back muscles are. With time, it's possible to gradually increase the range of motion in either direction. If a person sits a lot with hunched shoulders, the muscles in the back are going to tighten, and that prevents the spine from twisting properly. The person needs to keep the back straight and the head in a more neutral position throughout the day. To perform this twist stretch:

  1. Sit on the floor with the legs crossed or on a chair with the feet on the floor. Make sure to sit up tall and pull the shoulder blades together and then down the back.

  2. Slowly twist to the left. Then, place the right hand to the outside of the left leg or knee. Place the left hand to the back for more support and look over that shoulder.

  3. Hold this twist for up to 30 seconds and return to the starting position.

  4. Repeat it on the other side, looking over the right shoulder

  5. Repeat it up to four times per side.


Child's Pose

Child's pose is a popular yoga pose and is restful and simple to do. This helps the spine elongate passively. There are different variations, but when keeping the knees apart, it stretches the abdominal muscles connecting the long leg bone and lower back. If the arms are placed over the head, the latissimus dorsi is also gently stretched. This is a flat muscle connecting the long arm bone and spine.


To perform it:

  1. Start with a kneeling position, keeping the buttocks and hips resting on the feet and legs.

  2. Spread apart the knees so that it's comfortable. Fold the body slowly forward so that the chest goes down toward the knees.

  3. Stop whenever it's most comfortable. If possible, try to touch the forehead to the floor and stretch the arms out to the front. Let the hands gently rest on the ground with the arms straight.

  4. Rest in this position for about 30 seconds, letting the body relax.

  5. Come up to the hands and knees and slowly get up from the floor.


Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle is a yoga exercise, which stretches each side of the body. With this stretch, it helps to loosen the muscles in the back and chest. Try to keep the arms extended, but don't twist into pain. It can help to go slowly and be gentle with the pose.


To perform it:

  1. Begin on the hands and knees. The knees should be below the hips, with the feet in line with the knees.

  2. While keeping the hips, feet, and knees still, walk out the hands in front until they're under the shoulders. With each arm straight, feel the slight stretch on each side.

  3. Take that right arm, passing it under the left arm, and gently twist the chest. At this point, the right hand is resting on the floor with the palm up.

  4. Lower the right shoulder as much as possible and place the head on the floor to the right side. Look toward the ceiling.

  5. Hold the position for 30 seconds.

  6. Untwist by pushing upward and using the right arm to return to the starting position. Repeat with the left arm and left side.

  7. Repeat on each side two to four times.


Cat-Cow Pose

Cat-Cow Pose is another gentle and simple yoga exercise. It can help to loosen the shoulders and stretch the muscles in the spine. Perform it regularly and see a gradual increase in flexibility.


To perform it:

  1. Begin on the hands and knees. The knees should be below the hips with the wrists and hands under the shoulders. Spread out the fingers wide, pressing through the fingertips for even weight distribution. Keep the spine neutral.

  2. Breathe in deeply and let the stomach go toward the ground, sticking out the buttocks. This is the 'cow' position. Lift up the head and shoulders and push out the chest, looking forward.

  3. Breathe out slowly and gently. Arch up the back like a cat might. The pelvis should be tilted toward the ribs with the shoulder blades away and the belly far from the ground. The head can droop to the floor.

  4. Repeat these two poses (cat and cow) up to 10 times. Hold each pose for about five seconds.


Latissimus Dorsi Stretch

It is possible to do this stretch while standing or sitting. Just make sure that the spine stays long, and the chest is raised. With this simple exercise, the serratus muscle (underarm) is also stretched.


To perform it:

  1. Stand or sit up straight and raise the right hand over the head and straight up.

  2. Bend that elbow allowing the right hand to drop toward the upper part of the back.

  3. Place that left hand onto the right elbow, gently pulling on the right arm.

  4. While pulling on the elbow, keep the body straight and bend over to the left, but don't lean backward or forward.

  5. Hold this for roughly 30 seconds before repeating it on the other side.


Passive Back-bend

With this pose, it's possible to relieve pain from sitting at a computer all day. It's designed to stretch the scalene muscles, serratus, and the chest. There must be a supportive object under the back, such as a foam noodle, back roller, yoga mat, or rolled-up towel.


To perform it:

  1. Place the roll onto the floor.

  2. Lie down so that the roll is beneath the shoulder blades. It should be close to the middle of the back. The head might also require elevation; place a pillow underneath.

  3. Bring in the arms and then move the arms away. The hands should come to rest on the floor at a 45-degree angle from the body.

  4. Hold this position for up to two minutes.

  5. Consider moving the arms slightly upward while keeping everything relaxed to change the shift of the stretch.


Cobra Pose or Sphinx Pose

The Cobra yoga pose can be a little challenging for the arm, so the Sphinx pose might be more suitable. Active back bending is the goal here. Those with pain in the mid-back might not be able to go as far in the beginning. Don't push beyond what's comfortable.


To perform it:

  1. Lay on your stomach on the floor. Extend out the legs so that the top of the feet rest on the floor. The knees should be relaxed; don't use them to push or extend.

  2. Place the hands underneath the shoulders so that the fingertips are forward. Bend down the elbows and ensure that the arms are tucked into the body.

  3. Engage the leg and buttock muscles so that the feet and legs are pushed into the floor. This is essential because it helps support the low back while extending the spine and lifting the chest.

  4. Breathe out. While doing so, push up gently while using the arms to lift up the head and chest. Alternatively, rise to the elbows and stay in that pose (Sphinx).

  5. Bend the back a little more by lifting the chest further and straightening the arms while pressing down with the hands. Some people can't do this; only do what's comfortable that doesn't cause pain.

  6. Hold the position for about 30 seconds (or as long as is possible). Gently return back to the floor and repeat this stretch up to four times.


Bridge

Bridge pose can help strengthen the muscle along the spine and in the abdomen and buttocks. When this stretch is done regularly, it can help a person keep an upright posture while standing and sitting.


To perform it:

  1. Lie on a yoga mat on the ground and on the back. Keep the knees bent with the feet flat on the floor and pulled into the buttocks as far as possible. The arms should stay by the sides.

  2. Squeeze the buttocks and raise up the pelvis toward the ceiling. Roll the torso upward so that the back is off the ground. Right now, the shoulders support the entire weight of the body. The head should be relaxed and stay on the floor.

  3. Hold that position for five full seconds while continuing to squeeze the buttocks. Use the hands and each arm to give a little leverage.

  4. Gently lower down the torso and let each vertebra touch one at a time until the back is flat and in the resting position again.

  5. Do this 12 to 15 times and work up to performing three sets.


Sideline Thoracic Rotational Stretch

With this stretch, you should:

  1. Lay on the back on the floor.

  2. Bring the knees into the body and slowly lower them to the right side, bending the knees to a 45-degree angle. The right arm should be under the left arm.

  3. Push the right arm upward, lifting straight up and rotating it to the right side. Don't move the hips, and don't get discouraged if the arm doesn't go that far. Turn the head to the right, as well.

  4. Hold it for up to 30 seconds.

  5. Go back to the original position and repeat on the left side to relieve pain and help with posture.


Lat Side Stretch

It's possible to do this stretch standing or sitting.


To perform it:

  1. Sit with the hips on the floor and the back tall and straight.

  2. Reach up the left arm over the head and bend gently to the right while keeping the back straight and not leaning forward.

  3. Hold it for 30 seconds and return to the original posture.

  4. Repeat on the other side, and perform three sets.


Tips to Manage Back Pain


These simple stretches can help to relieve pain and prevent it from coming back. Follow these tips:

  • Stay mobile because movement can help relieve any stiffness. Try to stay active and do gentle exercises and yoga throughout the day.

  • Take over-the-counter pain meds as needed to reduce inflammation and pain.

  • One thing to consider is to try massages and acupuncture to deal with long-term back pain.

  • Improve the posture with yoga and Pilates.


Conclusion


It's possible to improve posture for the long-term by doing various stretching routines. The hips, back, and all other parts of the body need to be worked so that they can relax and unwind. Consult with a doctor or a chiropractor in Columbus if the pain doesn't go away or gets worse.

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