mid back stretches

Best Mid Back Stretches and Exercises for Back Pain


Medically reviewed by Misty Seidenburg

Mid-back pain has many possible causes including injuries, disease, and disc and joint damage. Depending on your diagnosis, your healthcare provider may recommend mid back stretches and exercise to relieve pain and stiffness and improve range of motion. Here are some gentle but effective moves to ease your aching back.

What Causes Mid Back Pain?

The spine is a complex structure that endures a lot of wear and tear over the course of a lifetime, which can lead to painful injuries.

A study from Georgetown University found that nearly 65 million Americans have experienced recent back pain. it’s the leading cause of missed days from work and work limitations. Chronic back pain is also linked to poor overall health, low activity levels, and emotional distress.

Knowing why back pain happens is the first step toward feeling better. Common causes of back pain include:

Some of these conditions can cause other symptoms including mid-back muscle spasms, sharp pain in mid-back, and tingling in the mid-back. Never dismiss symptoms that do not respond to self-care or those that seem to get worse over time. A proper diagnosis is the key to finding the right treatment and managing your condition.

Curvature and the Healthy Back

The spine is divided into three segments: the cervical spine (upper back), lumbar spine (lower back), and thoracic spine (mid back.) From the side, a healthy spine forms an s-shaped curve with the upper and lower back curving inward, and the mid back curving slightly outward.

Healthy spinal curvature allows the spine to act as a shock absorber. It also aids in the distribution of weight during movement, offsetting the force of gravity throughout the back. The s-curve also creates space between individual spinal discs, which is lost when discs are stacked one directly above the other.

Ideal spinal curvature helps with balance, muscle strength and stability, and good range of motion. When the spinal curve is affected by sprains, strains, posture problems, injuries, or disease, exercise and stretching can help counteract those effects to reduce pain and other symptoms.

Note: Some conditions may not be suitable for certain exercises or stretches. Always check with your healthcare provider and physical therapist to make sure these movements are safe for you.

4 Mid Back Exercises for Pain Relief

Exercises for mid back pain are designed to promote proper posture and strengthen the muscles in the mid back and throughout the body to support healthy curvature. For these, you’ll need 5- or 10-pound weights and exercise resistance bands.

Dumbbell Rows

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward. (Choose a weight that feels comfortable to you.)
  3. Bend your knees and hinge at the hips slightly so your back is flat and your chest is nearly parallel with the ground.
  4. With your core engaged and a flat back, slowly bend your elbows, pulling the dumbbells toward your hips.
  5. Keep your elbows in by your ribs and stop when the dumbbells reach your rib cage.
  6. Slowly extend your arms back toward the ground to return to the starting position.
  7. Do 3 sets of 10.

Lat Pulldowns

  1. Attach a resistance band to an elevated hook or anchor.
  2. Face the door and either kneel on the floor or sit in a chair.
  3. Place your hands shoulder width apart.
  4. Grab both ends of the band with your hands, extending your arms straight ahead of you and your palms down.
  5. Bend forward slightly while keeping your core engaged.
  6. Pull back on the bands until the ends reach your thighs.
  7. Do 3 sets of 10.


  1. Get in plank position with your palms pressed firmly on the floor. Keep your arms extended and shoulder blades as far apart as possible, so they aren’t shrugging or scrunching up. *To perform a modified plank, rest down on your forearms with your palms to the ground.
  2. Now lift your legs off the ground, so the balls of your feet are flat against the ground.
  3. Tuck your buttocks in and keep your head and neck looking forward, not down. Your body should form a straight line.
  4. Hold this position for 5 breaths before releasing. Repeat 2-4 times.


  1. Lay on your stomach with your arms and legs fully extended.
  2. Keep your neck in a neutral position while lifting your arms and legs off the ground a few inches.
  3. Use your glute and back muscles to extend even further. Hold here for a few breaths.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat 4-5 times.

4 Mid Back Stretches for Pain Relief

Stretching helps relieve muscle tension that may be causing mid back pain. It also promotes healthy posture and curvature, and increases range of motion.

Cat-Cow Pose

  1. Begin on your hands and knees, with your knees in line with your hips and your wrists directly below the shoulders. Your spine should be neutral.
  2. With your next inhale, let your stomach drop toward the ground. In a fluid motion, lift your head up and your buttocks out. Lift your head and push your chest out. This is the cow pose.
  3. As you exhale, arch your back up like a cat. Tilt your pelvis toward your ribs and your belly away from the ground as you drop your head toward the floor.
  4. Shift continually between cat and cow pose for 30-60 seconds.

Thread the Needle

  1. Resume the same starting position with your hands and knees on the ground.
  2. Your hands should be under your shoulders and knees under hips.
  3. As you inhale, lift your left hand up toward the ceiling while twisting your torso to the left.
  4. Now, exhale and rotate back toward the center, while “threading” your left arm into the opening between your right hand and knee.
  5. If possible, lower your left shoulder and ear to the floor.
  6. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on both side 2-3 times.

Bridge Pose

  1. Turn over onto your back and bend your knees.
  2. Rest your hands on the floor beside your buttocks.
  3. Squeezing the buttocks, raise your pelvis toward the ceiling as you roll your torso upward until your back is off the ground. Keep your shoulders on the ground.
  4. Hold there for 10-30 seconds as you continue squeezing your buttocks.
  5. Gently lower your torso, vertebrae by vertebrae, until your back is flat on the ground.
  6. Repeat 3-5 times.

Seated Twist

  1. Sit on a chair with your legs out in front of you, knees bent.
  2. Pull your shoulders back and down.
  3. Place your left hand on the outside of the right knee and place your right hand behind your back for support.
  4. Slowly twist your upper body to the right, looking behind you.
  5. Hold that position for 20-30 seconds and return to center.
  6. Repeat this twist on the other side.

Physical Therapy for Mid Back Pain

Most people will experience back pain at some point. Physical therapy helps patients with mid back pain manage and prevent symptoms through movement. Like those mentioned above, physical therapy incorporates guided therapeutic exercises to build muscle strength and condition spinal joints and tissues.

Physical therapy for mid back pain improves function and mobility throughout the entire kinetic chain—the interconnected joints, muscles, and connective structures that work together to perform different movements. Physical therapists also implement hands-on therapies to relieve tight, painful joints and muscles. Every physical therapy program is tailored to the patient’s unique symptoms and treatment goals.

The path to becoming pain-free starts with a comprehensive physical therapy evaluation. Find a physical therapy clinic near you to schedule yours today.

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Medically reviewed by

Misty Seidenburg

Vice President of Clinical Programs

Dr. Misty Seidenburg has been a practicing physical therapist since 2006 after obtaining her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Gannon University. Dr. Seidenburg completed an Orthopedic Residency in 2009 and subsequent Spine Fellowship in 2010 where she discovered a passion for educating clinicians. Since 2019, she has developed and refined several post-professional residency and fellowship programs and currently serves as the Vice President of Clinical Programs for Upstream Rehab Institute. She serves on several APTA committees to help advance the profession, is adjunct faculty at Messiah University, and is also a senior instructor and course developer for the Institute of Advanced Musculoskeletal Treatments with a special interest in exercise integration. Outside of work, she enjoys challenging herself with new adventures and is currently competing as an endurance athlete.

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