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Back Pain Center

Exercises to Reduce Upper Back Strain

author image Kay Miranda
In 2001, Kay Miranda had her second screenplay purchased, then started writing a weekly column in "The Messenger," with work appearing in "Xquisite" and "Valley Scene Magazine." Miranda earned a Bachelor of Arts in bio-psychology from the University of Colorado. Fortunate to play collegiate tennis, Miranda has extensive travel and coaching experience.
Exercises to Reduce Upper Back Strain
Return to upper back exercises with light weights and a spotter for help. Photo Credit Chris Clinton/Photodisc/Getty Images

An upper back strain involves tearing one or more muscles or tendons in the upper back, causing inflammation and pain. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the first stage of rehabilitating an upper back strain is RICE therapy -- rest, ice, compression and elevation. Depending on the severity of the muscle strain, it may be a few days to weeks before you can start an exercise rehabilitation program.


Strains occur when the muscle or tendon is pulled or twisted beyond its maximum range of motion and flexibility. Acute strains happen suddenly, often the result of some sort of trauma such as a football tackle or lifting something too heavy. Chronic strains happen over time with repeated overuse where muscles or tendons may become fatigued. If the torn tissue is not given time to repair, the strain worsens.


Before you can start exercises to rehabilitate an upper back strain, you need to know how bad the strain is in the first place. Pain and swelling from minor strains, such as first-degree strains, should subside over a few days. Second-degree sprains are more severe, with tearing at the muscle-tendon junction. Third-degree strains involve further tearing through to the muscle sheath. Second- and third-degree strains should be evaluated by a doctor for proper diagnosis and rehabilitation program.

Before and After Exercises

Before you start to workout muscles recovering from any strain, you should first warm your body up to increase circulation. Warming the muscles up through a light aerobic routine such as walking briskly prepare the muscles for activity and reduces the chances of further injury. When you finish a workout, take a few minutes to stretch the muscles out slowly, never bobbing or bouncing in a stretch. Be sure to ice the strain for 20 minutes after exercise to prevent swelling.


The goal with upper back strain exercises is to start slow without placing too much weight or resistance in the activity. Not only does this risk re-injury, surrounding muscles become at-risk as they engage to help the injured, weaker area perform the task.

Isometric exercises create resistance without taking muscles through a wide range of motion. The lack of motion reduces the risk of further strain. You can perform a wall push-up by pushing your outstretched arms against a wall while leaning at an angle. The weight of your body contracts the upper back muscles. Resistance increases as you move closer to a horizontal position. Hold positions for five to 10 seconds and repeat five to 10 times.

Another exercise to help back strain rehabilitation is the arm reach. This is done on all fours. Alternate reaching your left arm forward with your right. As you increase the ability to maintain balance, stretch your right leg back as you reach with your left arm; then alternate. Do a set of 10.

Shoulder rolls help maintain flexibility in the upper back. Perform small shoulder rolls as long as there is no pain. Increase the width of the rolls as you can without pain. Do 10 rolls forward and backward.


As your back strain heals, you can increase the exercise program, returning to all activities as your doctor allows. Prevent another back strain injury by stretching prior to exercise. Only wear shoes that fit properly and have adequate cushioning. Do not engage in sports when tired or fatigued. If you experience minor back pain while exercising, stop and take the rest of the day off to allow minor strains to heal before they worsen.

Increase back exercises to improve overall back strength. Bench presses and dumbbell flies help build chest muscles that support the back. Rowing and lateral pulls build trapezius muscle strength, supporting the smaller back muscles along the spine. Always stretch after weight training to help contracted muscles retain the length needed for mobility.

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