A Brief Guide to Yoga for Upper Back Pain

by Anna Stork

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So many of us spend a great deal of our time experiencing some type of pain. It can range from distracting to debilitating, and most chronic pain sufferers claim they would do nearly anything to make the pain go away. 

There is good news for you if you suffer from pain: the ancient practice of yoga is a proven and effective way to alleviate pain in many areas.

Those who experience upper back pain know that it can be excruciating. This is especially true for those who have a deficiency in one or more muscles that increases the strain on other muscle tissues. This vicious cycle will only increase the problem. To experience a break in this pain cycle, you need some actual healing to the afflicted area. There are several common reasons for upper back pain. 

The Main Causes of Upper Back Pain

woman runner experiencing back pain

• POOR POSTURE- Remember being told to ‘sit up straight’ by a well-meaning relative or family friend? Even though the reminders may have been annoying, the advice was sound. Poor posture weakens the muscles in your upper back and neck areas. The position often results in a bent over back and neck as well as considerable upper back discomfort. Our bodies were not created to hunch over or maintain a stationary position for hours at a time.

• AN ACCIDENT- Whether your injury happened due to a fall or a car accident, chances are your back absorbed a fair amount of damage. Even if you are not incapacitated, your back may have significant amounts of damage that may not be causing chronic pain.

• OVER EXERTING- A game of backyard football, helping the neighbor move his freezer, or painting your dining room, all of these seemingly harmless things can lead to excessive upper back pain. If you find it is necessary for you to lift or use your hands above your head for an extended period of time, do so with caution. Be sure to take short breaks too.

• PREGNANCY- Even though this is an exciting time, the growth and positioning of your baby put a significant amount of strain on your upper back. Additionally, in the latter stages of pregnancy, your body releases a hormone designed to loosen the ligaments in preparation for delivery. This loosening frequently leads to upper back pain.

• ILLNESSES OR DISORDERS- There are specific physical maladies that lead to upper back pain. For example, those with fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis frequently endure significant back pain. Often treatments for these sources of back pain include strong pain-relieving medications which some patients cannot tolerate. Other patients can tolerate medication but are bothered by side effects such as sleepiness and dizziness. 

How Yoga Helps Relieve Upper Back Pain

woman with muscular back and sports bra

The art of yoga is traced back around 4,000 years to India. At the time as well as today, yoga focuses on building your flexibility and strength. However, yoga also is an excellent way to train your mind to focus. A skill such as that is useful for those with chronic upper back pain to help themselves find relief from the emotional rigors of pain.

While there are many treatments and medications designed to alleviate back discomfort, many of these only reduce the symptoms of pain and do nothing to increase your back’s overall well-being. However, research shows us that practicing the ancient art of yoga can be instrumental in strengthening your upper back and alleviating pain.

Recent studies demonstrate how patients who practice yoga only twice a week experience improvement in their strength and flexibility. Additionally, patients reported less upper back pain after eight weeks spent practicing yoga twice a week. 

How to Use Yoga in Your Struggle with Upper Back Pain

yoga pose with back stretch

Different yoga techniques and poses evoke different responses. There are specialized poses dealing specifically with back pain. However, there are some common restorative threads that run through most types of yoga.

• Yoga can decrease the stress and tension in your upper back muscles by increasing your flexibility and range of motion.

• By taking part in the regular stretching in yoga, your back muscles learn to relax and rest. (As opposed to the tight and clenched back muscles that are so common in people who experience upper back pain.) As your back muscles become used to existing in a resting state, your overall pain levels will diminish.

• The longer you maintain your yoga practice, the higher the pain relief for the upper back. The continued stretching of your muscles alleviates pain and tension.

• In addition to stretching your muscles, yoga teaches you the best sitting techniques. These new ways of sitting are especially helpful for those who sit all day in a cubicle. Proper sitting also relaxes injured muscles and pinched nerves that may be causing you immense upper back pain.

• The breathing techniques and mental awareness associated with yoga permeate your entire body. The more attuned you become to how you breathe and what events cause you to stress, the better yoga will work at easing away the painful tension. 

Back Pain in Pregnancy, Pillows, and Yoga

pregnant woman in tree pose

Most expecting mothers experience similar struggles as the pregnancy progresses and their baby grows. Upper back pain is a very common issue for pregnant women. An estimated 80 percent of mothers-to-be suffer from upper back pain, especially during the later trimesters of pregnancy. At a time when putting any medication into your body seems like a risky idea, gently practicing prenatal yoga and using a maternity pillow are both excellent ways to relieve pain and ease tension.

As pregnancy progresses, some women find they are struggling with balance issues. Choosing yoga that focuses on your physical stability is essential for your well- being. Practice soothing yoga that includes gentle stretching, mindful breathing, and posture improvement. This kind of yoga will help you deal with various aspects of your pregnancy.

Doctors are nearly unanimous in their endorsement of using a pregnancy pillow to add support for expecting mothers. While you are lying down, the pillow gently cradles your stomach, allowing you to rest comfortably. Many varieties of pregnancy pillows (also called maternity pillows) are available. Because they are designed to accommodate your growing baby, they may differ slightly in design. Your best bet is to look for one that is firm as it will gradually soften with use. A breathable fabric that is washable is also helpful.

Bottom Line

Upper back pain can make your life miserable, but yoga can set you free from aching and stiffness typically associated with back pain. There are many varieties of yoga classes available all over the country. If you prefer to start out at home, there are yoga videos that cater to beginners. Although stretching and moving sound counterintuitive to those who are in pain, gentle and relaxing yoga movements will ease your pain. It is never too late to try something new, especially if you can improve your health and alleviate pain in the process.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is of the author’s research. Please consult your doctor before taking any action. Tripaneer is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. 


Want to start practicing yoga the right way? A short yoga retreat in a beautiful place can get you started under the supervision of an accredited teacher. You can be sure that the moves you are making from henceforth are the best ones for your back. 

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