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Middle Back Pain? Try This Unlikely Exercise.

Do You Have Middle Back Pain, A Stiff Neck Or Tight Lower Back?

Have you been struggling with middle back pain or tightness? Maybe you get a really stiff neck and blame sleeping on it the wrong way. Odds are your mid-back isn’t moving as much or as well as it should.  The middle of your back (the area between your neck and lower back) is known as the thoracic spine. Bending forward through your mid-back is kind of the forgotten child when we talk about the thoracic range of motion. Everyone has done thoracic extension. Rolled up and down on a foam roller. You may have even coupled this with thoracic rotation. But, if you’ve tried these exercises, and still get tight through your mid-back, maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper and work in thoracic flexion.

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How Your Back Absorbs Stress:

In order to distribute and absorb stress, your spine develops a set of natural curves. These curves begin forming as soon as you are able to walk. In the picture below (courtesy of we see the neck (cervical spine) and the lower back (lumbar spine) form a backwards C shape (a lordosis). The mid-back (thoracic spine) and sit bone (sacrum) form a C shaped curve known as kyphosis. The typical Thoracic kyphosis is approximately 40° to distribute the force through your mid-back efficiently. This increased force usually results in slack being taken up but increased motion through your neck, lower back, or shoulders.


Fig.1 Spinal curves in common postures.


Sitting at a desk staring at a computer all day, looking down at our phone on the way home from work, and pushing your neck through our arms on the last couple of reps of a heavy push press or snatch are all common causes of upper thoracic stiffness, but another stressor you may not realize is stress itself.

Stress And Your Middle Back Pain:

When you become stressed or agitated, you inhale heavily you tense up the neck and lift the shoulders (check it out in a mirror) instead of expanding the lower ribs outwards in a 360° range of motion like a bucket handle you lift up through the shoulders and upper ribs like a pump handle. Over the course of time, you will start to see changes in posture if this becomes your default mechanism of breathing and will eventually lead to a flattened lower thoracic spine.

Check it out in a mirror do you lose the natural C shaped curve below the shoulder blades? Do you feel no matter how much you foam roll and stretch out your thoracic spine, nothing gives you any long term relief? If this sounds like you, then maybe its time to try some flexion mobilizations for your mid-back. When your back flattens out it is basically getting locked in extension, so when you get down on a foam roller you are just jamming it further into a range of motion it is already stuck in.


Time To Try Some Thoracic Flexion:

This exercise is particularly useful if

  • You are highly stressed and breathe mainly through the shoulders and neck
  • If you look In the mirror and notice you have a flat spine (the normal thoracic spine should make a 40°curve or c shape)
  • You have been smashing your thoracic spine into extension without feeling much relief of your middle back pain or noticing a change in range of motion in it or adjacent areas


  • Pop down on the floor on hands and knees
  • Posterior my tilt the pelvis and sit back and you heels
  • Rest forearms on the floor and take a big breath in through the lower ribs trying the expand them in a 360* range of motion
  • As you exhale, press the forearms into the ground and gently try to reach the arms out in front of you and push the thoracic spine into further flexion(back up to the sky).
  • Hold the flexed position and repeat 5-10 times or until a release is felt.

Summing It All Up:

Middle back pain is usually due to a loss of your spine’s natural ability to absorb stress. When you place too much stress on your mid-back, it generates pain. Loosen up your mid back with extension, flexion and rotation exercises. Work on your breathing mechanics. When stressed to make sure you aren’t putting more stress on your mid-back than you need to. 

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