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The Best Yoga Poses for Upper Back Pain

by Patty Weasler, RN October 30, 2019 0 Comments

Woman posing on yoga mat

Yoga stretches for upper back pain involve a series of gentle poses that can benefit just about anyone. Our modern, sedentary lifestyle has evolved into more sitting and slouching then ever before. We find ourselves spending most of our time at a desk or hunched over our phone. Over time, our poor posture will lead to upper back pain. Grab a yoga mat and let’s get started in learning how yoga can help reduce upper back pain.

Is Yoga Good for Upper Back Pain?

The upper back consists of the thoracic spine and the muscles that cover your shoulders, neck, and back. Poor posture, injury, or pain can cause you to tighten or overcompensate resulting in further pain and discomfort. Yoga can relieve that pain and tightness in the upper back while strengthening your core muscles which can lead to improved posture.

Take some time each day to take a deep breath and find balance with your yoga practice. Here are just a few benefits of yoga for upper back pain:

  • Lengthen muscles
  • Improve body awareness
  • Release tension
  • Improve posture
  • Increase strength

Beginner Yoga Poses

Here are a few beginner poses to ease you into a yoga practice that can reduce upper back pain.

Cat Cow

The Cat-Cow pose lengthens and stretches the chest and back muscles through two distinct movements. This is a great pose to warm up as you move into more difficult movements.

  1. Come onto all fours with your hands directly under your wrists and knees under your hips.
  2. Inhale as you move into cow pose. Drop your stomach towards the floor, move your tailbone towards the sky, and bring your gaze upwards.
  3. As you exhale move into cat pose. Bring your stomach up towards your spine, rounding your back, and look down towards your navel.
  4. Repeat the Cat Cow pose at least five times following your natural breathing pattern.

Puppy Pose

Puppy pose stretches the trapezius muscles, shoulders, and opens the chest. You’ll gain the most benefit the more often you do this pose.

  1. Start in tabletop position: on all fours with hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  2. Walk your hands out in front of you and lower your chest to the ground.
  3. If you need support due to pain between your shoulder blades or in your neck place a small pillow or blanket under your head for support.
  4. Hold this position for two minutes, gradually working up to five minutes.

Moving into Child’s pose is a natural transition out of Puppy pose and will give you a moment to center yourself.

Cobra Pose

This beginner yoga pose is an upper body backbend that opens your chest and extends your shoulders back. There are two different ways to move into this pose, the beginner should start in a prone position on their mat. A more advanced yogi can transition from downward facing dog.

  1. Lie flat on your mat face down.
  2. Bring your hands on either side of your body, at the shoulder level.
  3. During inhalation, press down on your hands, lifting your chest slowly off of the mat.
  4. With your arms fully straightened, press your shoulder blades together, drop your shoulders, and open your chest.

Hold the Cobra pose for 15 to 30 seconds and then gently lower your chest to the floor.

Half Lord of the Fishes

This pose stretches the hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, and hips. The name might be intimidating but the pose definitely isn’t!

  1. Sit down on your mat and bend your knees.
  2. Bring the right foot under your left leg and rest it alongside your hip.
  3. Take your left hand and place it flat on the mat behind you.
  4. Place your right arm, along the outside of your left leg and hold your left foot.
  5. Turn your head to the left and look back over your left shoulder.

Keep this pose for three breaths and repeat the same movement on the other side.

Intermediate Yoga Poses

Once you feel confident in your yoga practice try out these intermediate yoga poses that require a bit more coordination and strength.

Thread the Needle

If you’re looking for a stable spine rotation pose then this is the one for you. In Thread the Needle pose you’ll stretch your shoulders, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles.

  1. Start in a tabletop position with your hands below your shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Inhale and lift your right arm to the sky. Exhale and drop your right hand under your stomach with the palm facing upward.
  3. Lower your head to the floor, with your right shoulder and ear on the mat.
  4. Keep your hips level to protect your lower back and spine.

Hold this pose for five breaths before coming out and repeating the pose on the opposite side.

Bridge Pose

In this pose, you’ll strengthen and stretch your upper body, shoulders, and core. Grab a yoga block for a deeper stretch.

  1. Lie down on your back with knees bent, hip width apart, and arms resting at your side.
  2. Inhale and raise the hips off of the ground.
  3. Continue to raise your hips as high as you comfortably can.
  4. For a deeper stretch take a yoga block and position it under your tailbone.

Stay in Bridge pose for 10 seconds. Lower your hips to the ground and hug your knees into your chest to release tension.


The Locust pose stretches the upper back and strengthens the lower back, arms, and legs.

  1. Lie on your stomach with arms down at your side with palms facing upward.
  2. On exhale lift your chest and legs off of the ground while keeping arms parallel to the floor.
  3. Hold this pose for several breaths then slowly lower your chest and legs back onto the floor.
  4. Add a small towel or blanket under your pelvis if this pose is painful for your hips.

If this intermediate yoga pose is too difficult, only lift one leg off of the ground at a time.


This forward fold pose helps to release upper back tension and pain. With consistent practice, you will find yourself able to fold farther and achieve a deeper stretch.

  1. Stand on your mat with feet hip width apart.
  2. Bend your knees and on exhale forward bend to the ground.
  3. Let your hands hang down or grab opposite elbows for a deep stretch.
  4. With every exhale feel the tension leave your upper back.

Remember to keep your knees bent throughout this pose. To release Ragdoll, slowly stand up and straighten your legs.

Advanced Yoga Poses

These advanced yoga poses for upper back pain require both strength and balance. Stand near a wall or chair for balance support if necessary.

Eagle Pose

This pose requires both excellent balance and strength. Take your time moving into Eagle pose and listen to your body with each movement.

  1. Stand on your mat with feet hip width apart.
  2. Inhale and extend arms wide at your sides.
  3. Exhale and wrap left arm over right arm, wrapping them until palms meet.
  4. Drop your shoulders down your back while lifting your elbows.
  5. Exhale and bend your knees like you’re sitting in a chair.
  6. Cross your left leg around your right leg hooking your left foot on your right calf.

Maintain this pose for several breaths. To help maintain your balance fix your gaze on a steady object in front of you.

Extended Hand to Toe

This pose stretches while improving your balance. Use a stretch strap if you are unable to grab your foot.

  1. Place your hands on your hips with your feet touching each other.
  2. On exhale lift the right thigh up parallel to the floor.
  3. With your right hand hook your right big toe with your first two fingers.
  4. Extend your leg forward and stand tall without leaning.
  5. Rotate your right leg out to the side. Maintain this pose for several breaths.

To release the Extended Hand to Toe pose bring your leg back to center, bend your knee and drop your foot to the ground.

Tips for Safe Yoga

When you first start a yoga practice look for a yoga studio that teaches beginner classes. Introduce yourself to the instructor and tell them about any previous injuries or aches and pains you may have. A certified yoga instructor will be able to teach you how to correctly perform each pose and show you modifications as needed.

Always avoid yoga poses that cause pain, shortness of breath, or discomfort. Listen to your body as you progress through each pose. We recommend using a yoga block or strap to support your body to help prevent injury and maintain a safe yoga practice.

Practice with Precaution

Yoga stretches can be a great treatment for upper back pain. With consistent practice every day you may find pain relief in your shoulders, upper back, neck, and surrounding muscles. However, talk to your doctor about your back pain before you start yoga. As yoga may not be the right answer for your upper back pain.

Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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