6 Effective Upper Back Pain Exercises

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!

The equipment you’ll need to complete the exercises: A Massage Ball and a Resistance Band or a Loop resistance band.

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

Chest release for neck and upper back pain
Pectoralis major and minor release

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

Lat exercises for upper back pain
Lats Activation Exercise

Instructions:

  • 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.

Band Pull-Aparts

Band pull apart exercise for upper back pain
Band pull-aparts

Instructions:

  • 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

posterior deltoid strengthener
Posterior Deltoid Strengthener

Instructions:

  • 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

rotator cuff strengthener
Rotator cuff strengthener

Instructions:

  • 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

Lat strengthening exercise
Mid-Lower Trapezius Strengthener

Instructions:

  • 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.

Band Rows

Band row exercise to strengthen the mid-back
Band rows

Instructions:

  • 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

Upper back pain exercises
  • Hello Sofia, I always love the workouts. The exercises which you have described I really liked that. This will help to get rid of back pain. Thanks for sharing your blog with us.

  • I really need to strengthen my back between my shoulder blades. I work at a computer all day and do a lot of card making and quilting. I am having to slow down due to my back hurting. I know the muscles are just not strong enough and get overworked. These look great since it is something you can do in your home with a band.

    I am just a bit confused. Not sure if the first and second images are two separate exercises. The first shows the band pulled out while arms are overhead yet it says to lift the arms. Are you supposed to pull the band out as in the second image and while pulled out to the sides lift overhead?

    • Hi Patty,

      Really glad you found this post, I do these exercises every second day to strengthen my upper back, and also open up my chest (sitting to much can have that effect on the shoulders, they get rounded). Definitely do it at home when you get a chance. I’m gonna have to make a video version of this post because it’s very popular 🙂

      And so sorry about the confusion. No, the first and second images are two separate exercises, I guess I forgot to separate them. So in the first exercise, you start by creating some resistance in the band, and then you lift your arms up while focusing on bringing he shoulder blades together, then back down as you keep that resistance. A good trick is to pretend someone is placing their hands on your shoulder blades and you are trying to bring the left arm to touch the right arm.

      The second image is the shoulder pull apart, and in this one you actually pull apart the band, and then back to starting position. Of course make sure you are pulling using your shoulder blades and not with your forearms. So Keep your arms straight as you pull.

      Another thing is, as you strengthen the back muscles, you should also release/stretch the chest. It gets too tight from slouching all day and working on computer. You can either use a massage ball or tennis ball or to stretch it against the wall as well.

      I hope this helps, let me know if this isn’t clear enough 🙂

  • Great exercises! I train individual afflicted by Parkinson’s disease. Posture & core exercises are a huge part of preventing the progression of their stooped posture.

  • Hi Sophia
    I just found your site while looking for a site to help me with my tight shoulders/neck and back issues. I don’t know if this is relevant to the issue but in April I “blew out” my bicep. I exercised through PT but didn’t really help a lot. I’ve been using small weights 2-3# to try to get back some strength. I’m 76 and I know if I don’t use it and strengthen it.. then down the road I might be in real trouble for lifting anything including my arm up. Do you have any suggestions or videos for this issue and for seniors to strengthen their bodies. I have a pacemaker so any extreme cardio or lifting heavy weights will probably be to much for me. Thank you for your time😊

    • Hi Judi,
      You definitely don’t have to place a load on your muscles or engage in extreme cardio or weight lifting to strengthen your body. There are workable solutions for everything. I use resistance bands in this video and they are extremely low impact. If you’re using the right back muscles to pull the band you shouldn’t feel it in your biceps at all.the movement should initiate from the shoulder joint. I also think that simply maintaining proper posture when sitting and standing will help you avoid muscle imbalances and keep you away from pain. I love egoscue potural exercises because they are low impact, simple to do and help you maintain proper alignment and proper muscle tone. I hope you check it out.

  • Hi Sofia,
    Just found your post about posture exercises. I have upper back pain because of poor posture. Thank you for the exercises. I’ve been going to physical therapy and do some of the resistance band exercises. I will add a few more that you suggested.
    Thanks again.

    • You’re so welcome Laura! yes posture will help you avoid upper back pain. Make sure you’re sleep position is also aligned so you’re not hunched over when you’re sleeping on the side. All the best 🙂

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