Middle back pain can be a tricky subject and many patients never find out the root cause of it. This is in part due to how complex the back is: it is made up of bones, joints, muscles, and ligaments, each of which can be affected in multiple different ways. This can be seen by all of the ways the back can be negatively impacted from injuries and disease to poor posture and obesity. According to the American Chiropractic Association, eight out of ten people will experience some kind of back pain in their lifetimes.
Middle back pain – the basics
Upper and middle back pain is not as common as lower back or neck pain, but it still accounts for a sizable amount of pain. This is especially true for those who work at a computer every day or are in physically intensive industries. The one thing that most back pain has in common is that it can be combated and relieved with simple stretches and exercises to build muscle strength and reduce tension.
The upper and middle part of the back are known as the thoracic back. This part of the back contains the T1 through T12 vertebrae, part of the rib cage, and various muscles and ligaments that hold the spine together. While the lower back and neck are made to be more flexible, the upper and middle parts of the back, along with the rib cage, are built for support and to protect many of the vital organs of the human body.
Many conditions are much more rare in this rigid area such as spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, or disc herniation. The main causes of upper and middle back pain occur from overuse or an injury that usually develops from continuous strain or bad posture. Continual high stress can also cause muscle tension, which can eventually devolve into a vicious cycle of stressing over ever-increasing pain. Conditions that put pressure on the spinal nerves can also cause upper and middle back pain, such as a fracture of a vertebrae, scoliosis, or osteoarthritis.
Back pain symptoms
Some common symptoms you should be aware of to identify chronic and acute back pain include:
- Pain can be localized or spread over a large area
- The pain can start suddenly or slowly build up
- Pain is exacerbated by certain activities or positions
- The pain is generally dull, sharp, or burning
Keep in mind that upper and middle back pain can be a sign of much more severe issues such as a cancerous tumor and diseases that affect the heart, lungs, and kidneys. If you experience any of the following symptoms, make sure you consult a physician immediately:
- Numbness or weakness in your extremities, chest, or stomach
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Chest pain or pressure
- Nausea or vomiting
Stretches and exercises to beat middle back pain
There are numerous treatment options to manage back pain issues. However, most other options such as ice therapy, OTC meds, and massage only provide temporary symptom relief. The goal with incorporating a regular exercise and stretching routine is to strengthen the muscles in and supporting the back to provide a more permanent reduction of pain.
Remember when doing these stretches to pay attention to your breathing and never hold your breath. Exhale while stretching the muscle and inhale when you start to relax it. Now try these four exercises to really work out some of that nasty back pain.
1. Sitting rotation
A simple stretch you can do at the office or while sitting in front of the computer is a sitting rotation. Make sure you are sitting straight in a chair with armrests. Place the right hand on the back of the right armrest. Then, place your left hand on the front of the armrest. Keep looking straight ahead and don’t let your neck turn with your body. Hold for about 30 seconds, with your abs engaged, and switch sides.
2. Passive back bend
A passive back bend is an amazing stretch to do at the end of a long day and requires minimal effort. Start by rolling up a towel or another available bolster. Then lay across the rolled-up item so it rests just under and across your shoulder blades.
Next, lay there and enjoy the stretch. Remember to breathe. Hold as long as you want, but make sure to do it for at least five minutes. If you want a deeper stretch, you can use something to elevate your back higher, but make sure your head is also supported as you do not want to overstrain the neck.
3. Supported hamstring stretch
Strengthening the hamstring can really help with back pain. Try a supported hamstring stretch. It’s easy on the back and all it requires is a chair. Put the heel of one leg up on a chair and tilt your pelvis forward. Make sure your back is straight and lean forward. Keeps your abs engaged, your lower back straight, and your breathing steady. Reach both arms towards your leg while keeping them parallel with the floor. Hold it for 30 seconds and then do the other leg.
4. Cat-cow post
The cat-cow yoga pose can really help with back pain. Start on all fours with your arms under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Slowly dip your stomach down and push your pelvis upward. Then, arch your back and round the spine, bringing the pelvis back down and letting the your head dangle. Do a series of five of these to really feel it.
Low-impact activities for upper and middle back pain
Some low-impact activities you can indulge in that will also help stretch out your back and are healthy overall include:
- Stair climbing
- Using a rowing machine
- Engaging in tai chi or yoga
What exercises and stretches do you use when your upper or middle back are in pain?
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