Upper back pain can come out of nowhere. If the pain is acute, it can quickly expand to the neck or mid-back area and starts to interfere with daily activities. I want to show you 6 amazing resistance band exercises to help you get relief from upper back pain. These exercises will also strengthen those upper back postural muscles so you can avoid pain and re-injury.
Possible Causes of Upper Back Pain
Postural imbalance: Posture plays a huge role in avoiding or triggering upper back or neck pain. If you have a desk job or spend long hours sitting and typing, you’re more likely to develop Upper Crossed Syndrome. This happens when the shoulders start rounding, the head starts to travel forward and the upper back rounds. This chronic posture turns into upper cross syndrome when the muscles are almost locked in that position.
Upper cross syndrome can also affect the joints and muscles down the kinetic chain. Most people will rounded shoulder and a forward head posture will later develop lower back and hip pain as well.
You can check my post on how to sit properly to avoid both upper and lower back pain.
Muscular imbalances: muscular imbalances can develop because of bad posture and/or also due to an overuse/underuse of muscle groups.
For example, if you’re frequently slouching when you sit or work on your desk, you’ll start developing a lot of tightness in the front chest muscles.
In addition, if you overuse or overtrain the anterior, upper body, muscles such as the front deltoid, pectoralis major and minor and the biceps (doing a lot of pushing motion, curls and chest exercises), this will contribute to upper crossed syndrome and cause the upper and mid-back muscles to lengthen and weaken.
Training tip: always balance pushing with pulling exercises to maintain muscular balance.
The shortened and overactive muscles are usually: the upper trapezius, levator scapulae, lats, sternocleidomastoid and pectoralis major and minor (referred to as pecs).
The weakened and lengthened muscles are usually: the deep cervical flexors, rhomboids, mid and lower trapezius, and teres minor.
The goal here is to help restore proper posture and fix the muscular imbalances that have triggered and are the root cause of the upper back pain.
This is exactly why massaging the back muscles doesn’t fix the pain in the long run…because the source of the pain hasn’t been addressed.
How To Restore Upper Back Posture
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Before we jump into the exercises, you also want to start by releasing the chest and front shoulders to help restore your posture. You can perform this release and stretch daily and/or before the back exercises. This will help restore proper posture and ultimately give you relief from upper back pain and neck spasms.
We’ll be using a resistance band to complete these exercises and a massage ball to release the pectoral muscles. We want to activate and engage the upper back muscles (mainly the upper, mid and lower trapezius) as well as the rhomboid.
Scroll down below the exercise images to watch a step-by-step video tutorial with additional tips to perform these exercises with proper form!
For your convenience, I’ve also created a bonus PDF plan for you using the exercises below including the number of repetitions and sets to do. Scroll down to the end of this post to download the PDF.
Pectoral wall release and wall stretch
How to release the pecs with the massage ball:
- Place the massage ball (or a tennis ball) between your chest and a wall.
- Keep your hand (my left as illustrated) behind your back.
- Press against the wall and slowly move to find a tender spot.
- Rest on that spot for about 30 seconds and move to the other side.
How to stretch the pecs:
- Stand against the edge of a wall or door frame. Make sure your shoulder is down and both your hand and elbows are touching the wall.
- Rotate slightly (to the right as illustrated) as you move forward. Hold for 10-20 seconds, release and repeat on the other side.
- Keep your arm at a 90-degree angle. You can perform this stretch daily as the chest muscles tend to tighten up pretty fast.
6 Resistance Band Exercises For Upper Back Pain
Find the free PDF plan outlining 3 routines with how many reps and sets to do below the images.
Latissimus Dorsi (lats) Activation
- Hold the Resistance Band in front of you
- Pull out to create some resistance.
- Shoulders down, move the band up and keep the same resistance throughout the movement.
- Maintain a neutral posture as you move your arms up.
- Remember not to overstretch the band at the top. Then bring your arms down in front of you.
- Keep your shoulders down. Elevate the band in front of you.
- Pull the band out using your lat muscles. So engage your back muscles before you start pulling (imagine you are trying to bring your shoulder blades close together).
- Slowly release and bring your arms in front of you then repeat for a few more reps.
Posterior Deltoid Strengthener
- Start by holding one end of the band. Keep that end stable.
- Hold the other hand with the working arm and pull out as you keep your arm straight.
- Bring your hand back to neutral position and repeat for a few more reps.
Rotator Cuff Strengthener
- Hold the resistance with your arms facing right in front of you.
- Bend your elbow at a 90-degree angle.
- Rotate your arms externally.
- Pull the band outwards as you externally rotate your arms out.
- Make sure your elbows are as close to your body as possible.
- This is a small yet important exercise. Control each repetition and focus on the rear shoulder muscles to do the work.
Mid-Lower Trapezius Strengthener
- Start in a standing position.
- Anchor the band underneath your foot. Make sure both ends are equal in length.
- Engage your lats and pull the band up. You will feel your traps working too so make sure you keep your shoulders down so you’re mostly working the mid-back.
- Anchor the resistance to a door or a stable table leg.
- Hold the ends with each hand.
- Step backward to create resistance.
- Keep your core engaged so you’re not using your lower back.
- Pull the band towards you.
- Hold for 2 seconds and return to starting position in a controlled movement.
Upper Back Pain Exercises Tutorial
You can complete these exercises on a daily basis if you’d like, but it’s important not to overwhelm your muscles and cause more pain. That’s why I suggest you download and follow the suggested plan.
I also have a recent video post with additional exercises to strengthen the back muscles. These are more focused on the lats.
I hope you found this post helpful. If you have a question about anything, comment below…
Recommended programs: The Back Pain Bootcamp