The Best Pregnancy Stretches for Upper Back Pain [How To Get Relief]

Have you been experiencing upper back pain during your pregnancy?

You are not alone.

In this post, you are going to learn:

  • Why causes upper back pain in pregnancy,
  • The best pregnancy stretches for upper back pain, and
  • Other strategies to stay healthy.

Let’s jump right in.

pregnancy-stretches-for-upper-back-pain

Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

How do you relieve upper back pain during pregnancy?

Upper back pain during pregnancy is usually caused by poor posture. You can get relief by paying attention to your body position and using stretches to improve your posture and mobility.

It’s also important that you first address the root cause of why you are having back pain in the first place.

Let’s discuss why.

The Shifting Of Your Center of Gravity

As your pregnancy progresses, your uterus begins to grow, shifting your center of gravity forward.

To compensate, your pelvis gets pulled in a forward direction, leading to a condition known as anterior pelvic tilt.

postpartum-back-pain

This changes the curve of your lumbar spine, which is what causes mid/low back pain, as well as sciatica in the second and third trimesters.

With the increasing weight of your belly, your upper back also begins to round forward, pulling all your muscles and bones out of alignment.

If you don’t address this early, it will only get worse as your pregnancy grows and becomes heavier.

These aches and pains can worsen due to relaxin- the pregnancy hormone that relaxes the ligaments in the low back, hips, upper back, and neck.

The Importance of Good Posture

So now that you know why bad posture occurs, let us go over how you can maintain a good posture.

good-posture-postpartum

To maintain a good posture, your head should be neutral- you should be able to draw a straight line from your ear down to the middle of your foot, passing through your shoulder, hip and knee.

Your upper body should also be neutral. Your back should form a natural kyphotic curve at the upper back and a natural lordotic curve at the lower back.

Having a strong core, glutes, back and leg muscles, by exercising and/or stretching during pregnancy will help you to maintain good posture.

What stretches help upper back pain during pregnancy?

There are several stretching exercises you could perform in pregnancy to help alleviate your upper back pain.

Your pain and posture are a result of:

  • a weakening of the muscles in the upper back like the rhomboids (which sit between your shoulder blades), and the posterior shoulders, as well as
  • tightening of the chest muscle and anterior shoulders.

So you need to do two things:

  1. strengthen and mobilize the muscles of the upper back,
  2. and
  3. stretch the muscles of the chest and anterior shoulders

Just remember to check in with your provider prior to performing any sort of exercise in pregnancy!

Okay, let’s get started.

Doorway Stretch

The doorway stretch is a great stretch to open up your chest, especially if these muscles are tight from hunching and slouching over while sitting down or standing up.

This stretch also helps to fix the rounded shoulder posture.

Here is what the stretch looks like:

doorway-stretch

Do 3 sets of 20 second holds.

Double Overhand Wall Stretch

The double overhand wall stretch is a great way to improve your shoulder and upper back mobility from a safe position.

This stretch also really helps to open up your chest if it is feeling tight.

All you have to do is place your hands on a wall slightly above shoulder height and bring your down chest toward the floor.

Here is what the stretch looks like:

double-overhand-wall-stretch

Do 3 sets of 20 second holds.

Take long deep breaths when doing this stretch.

Seated Thoracic Extension

The seated thoracic extension is a great stretch to help improve the mobility of the thoracic spine and stretch your anterior side.

You might be shocked at how little mobility you have in this position!

Here is what the stretch looks like:

seated-thoracic-extensions

Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Hold the end position for 3-5 seconds, and take deep breaths while doing it.

Shoulder Dislocations

Shoulder dislocations are one of my favorite stretches! I do it every day before working out.

You will need a long closed-loop resistance band.

If you don’t have one, you get them here on Amazon.

This stretch helps open up your chest, improve shoulder mobility, and activate your upper back. Just make sure to perform this stretch slowly and be sure to squeeze your glutes and abs so as not to cause anterior pelvic tilt.

Here is what the stretch looks like:

shoulder-dislocations

Do 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Childs Pose

Childs pose is another one of my favorite exercises that I always come back to.

This exercise really stretches out the entire back muscles from the neck down to the lower back.

Just make sure to kneel down with a wide stance so that your gravid uterus has space.

Here is what the stretch looks like:

childs-pose

Do 3 sets of 20 second holds. Take slow deep breaths as you are doing it.

Seated Thoracic Rotations

The seated thoracic rotations are similar to the seated thoracic extensions.

Instead of extending backward, you will rotate from side to side.

This will give a nice deep stretch in the upper back and improve your mobility significantly.

Feel free to do this stretch on an exercise ball!

Here is what the stretch looks like:

seated-thoracic-rotations

Do 3 sets of 10 rotations on each side.

Open Book

I love the open book stretch!

It is a great twisting stretch that is safe to perform in pregnancy.

This is one of the best stretches to stretch the chest while improving thoracic spine mobility.

Give it a try, here is what it looks like:

open-book

You can do this exercise for time, 3 sets of 20-second holds, or for repetitions.

Rear Hand Clasp

The rear hand clasp is a great stretch to combat rounded shoulders as well as upper back pain.

It is very easy to perform yet very effective.

Just remember to keep a neutral spine with a tight core and tight glute muscles.

Here is what it looks like:

rear-hand-clasp

Do 3 sets of 20-second holds.

Is stretching safe? Any dangers of stretching while pregnant?

Stretching is safe in pregnancy as long as you are not going to your absolute full range of motion.

That’s because your joints might be more flexible than normal during pregnancy. Overstretching can lead to injury if you overdo it.

Remember, before engaging in any sort of stretching routine, you should speak with your OBGYN physician to ensure there is no reason why you wouldn’t be able to.

Also, it is important to avoid any stretch that requires you to be flat on your back or on your stomach as this could compromise the blood flow to your baby, especially in the 2nd and 3rd trimester.

Can you use a back stretcher while pregnant?

During the 1st trimester it is probably safe for you to use a back stretcher to help increase your thoracic mobility and possibly decrease your upper back pain.

back-stretcher-in-pregnancy

With that said, during the 2nd and 3rd trimester I recommend using the back stretcher at an incline. The reason is because you do not want to be flat on your back with a gravid uterus as the blood being returned to your heart decreases which then decreases blood flow to your baby.

If you do not have a back stretcher at home and are experiencing upper back pain there is another stretch you could perform using a chair.

Here is what the stretch looks like:

seated-thoracic-extensions

Other Stretches To Avoid in Pregnancy

During pregnancy, you want to avoid stretches where you:

  • are lying flat on your back,
  • are lying flat on your stomach,
  • require a lot of balance and there is a risk of falling,
  • feel any amount of joint pain, or
  • aggravate any sciatic nerve pain if present.

In addition, you should avoid “hot prenatal yoga” as the increase in temperature can cause you to get dehydrated quickly.

Other Related Questions

Is upper back pain normal in early pregnancy?

Upper back pain is common in the 2nd and 3rd trimester due to the growth of your uterus and change in posture.

However, if you have:

  • Bad posture,
  • Sit all day long,
  • Have poor sleeping posture,
  • Slouch while seated or standing, and/or
  • Hunch over while seated or standing

you can experience upper back pain early on in the pregnancy.

If you notice any significant pain early in pregnancy, definitely speak with your physician to rule out any other causes.

When should I worry about upper back pain?

You should seek medical attention if your upper back pain is progressively worsening, you are unable to breathe properly, or you have a fever/cough.

The good news is, upper back pain usually improves with stretching and occasionally physical therapy.

Is upper back pain a sign of miscarriage?

Upper back pain is usually musculoskeletal in origin and is not a sign of miscarriage.

Can I hurt my baby by twisting?

Twisting will not hurt your baby as long as you are doing it in a safe and controlled fashion. In addition, twisting is often unavoidable when you are doing normal daily activities.

How can I sleep with back pain while pregnant?

In the second and third trimesters, you should not sleep on your back. Try sleeping on your side with a pillow in between your legs while keeping your upper back in a neutral (not rounded position).

Final Words on Pregnancy Stretches For Upper Back Pain

Back pain during pregnancy is one of the most common complaints we hear as OBGYNs.

It is important for you to understand why it happens and what you can do to alleviate the pain.

Otherwise, you can develop neck pain, low back pain, and pelvic pain as well.

So now I want to hear from you!

What stretch are you most excited to try?

How did you manage your upper back pain during pregnancy?

Comment below and let me know!

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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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