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  • Isabel Jones, PT, DPT, ATC

Effective Stretches and Exercises for Mid-Back Pain Relief

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

If you often experience stiffness and discomfort in your mid-back after long hours of sitting, you're not alone. Our modern lifestyles, which involve extended periods of hunching over computers, using smartphones, sitting for prolonged durations, and driving, can contribute to increased tension and stiffness in the mid back. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the causes of thoracic spine stiffness, common symptoms, and preventive measures, and provide a range of effective stretches and exercises to alleviate mid-back pain.

woman experiencing mid-back pain while sitting at her computer

Understanding the Thoracic Spine

The mid-back, known as the thoracic spine, is situated between the base of the neck and the bottom of the ribcage. It plays a vital role in our daily activities and overall spinal health. The thoracic spine needs to maintain proper flexion, extension, rotation, and side bending to enable us to perform regular tasks and engage in recreational activities. When the thoracic spine fails to function optimally, it can lead to increased stress on other areas of the spine, such as the low back and neck.

diagram of the thoracic spine

Causes of Thoracic Spine Stiffness

  1. Prolonged sitting in one position: Remaining in the same posture for an extended period can lead to muscular stiffness and decreased mobility in the mid-back.

  2. Lack of postural strength: Weak postural muscles fail to provide adequate support to the thoracic spine, leading to stiffness and discomfort.

  3. Use of heavy backpacks: Carrying heavy backpacks for long periods can strain the mid-back and contribute to stiffness.

  4. Repetitive/overuse motions: Constant lifting, twisting, reaching overhead, and other repetitive movements can lead to thoracic spine stiffness.

  5. Underlying conditions: Certain conditions such as scoliosis, ankylosing spondylitis, and Scheuermann's disease can contribute to increased stiffness in the thoracic spine.

Symptoms of Increased Thoracic Spine Stiffness

  1. Difficulty sitting upright: Stiffness in the mid back can make it challenging to maintain an upright sitting posture.

  2. Pain in the shoulder blade area: Increased tension in the mid-back often manifests as pain around the shoulder blade region.

  3. Difficulty with rotational activities: Stiffness can hamper rotational movements, such as checking blind spots while driving.

  4. Restricted ribcage expansion: Stiffness may limit the ability to take deep breaths and expand the ribcage fully.

  5. Difficulty finding a comfortable sitting position: Stiffness can make it challenging to find a comfortable and pain-free sitting position.

  6. Reduced range of motion in the shoulders: Stiffness in the mid-back can restrict shoulder mobility.

Preventing Thoracic Spine Stiffness

  1. Limit prolonged sitting: Take regular breaks and incorporate movement throughout the day to prevent stiffness from prolonged sitting.

  2. Reduce the use of heavy backpacks: Minimize the duration and weight of backpack usage to avoid straining the mid-back.

  3. Improve postural strengthening: Strengthening the muscles that support proper posture can alleviate mid-back stiffness. Focus on exercises targeting the upper back, shoulders, and core.

  4. Perform daily stretches: Consistently incorporating stretches into your daily routine can help maintain flexibility and reduce thoracic spine stiffness.

Exercises and Stretches to Alleviate Mid-Back Pain

1. T-Spine Rotation in a Doorway

Stand in a doorway and place your hands on each side of the door frame at shoulder height. Gently rotate your torso away from the frame, feeling a stretch in the mid back. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.


2. Foam Roll - Thoracic Spine Extensions

Lie on a foam roller with it positioned horizontally along your mid back. Support your head with your hands and gently extend your upper back over the foam roller. Roll up and down to target different areas of stiffness.


3. T-Spine Matrix in Seated

Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Cross your arms out in front of you and slowly rotate your torso up and down, side-to-side, and to the right and left, feeling a stretch in the mid back. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each side.


4. Sport Cord Rows

Attach a resistance band or sports cord to a sturdy anchor point. Hold the handles in front of you, arms extended, and palms facing each other. Retract your shoulder blades and squeeze your mid-back muscles as you pull the handles towards your chest. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.


Rehab United Can Help!

If you experience persistent symptoms, numbness, tingling, pain in the chest and ribcage, or have suffered trauma to the thoracic spine area, it's essential to seek professional help. Consult a physical therapist for a thorough evaluation and personalized treatment plan.


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Isabel Jones, PT, DPT, ATC is a physical therapist and a Certified Athletic Trainer with a passion for physical activity and functional movement. She received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy in 2021 from the University of St. Augustine in San Marcos, CA, joining Rehab United quickly after.

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