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The middle of my back hurts from sitting! Exercises and stretches for pain relief

We explain why the middle of your back hurts when you’re sitting and how to address these issues. This includes demos of five stretches and two strength exercises. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.

Exercises and stretches for middle back pain.

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In this article:

We’ve also made a video about this:

Causes of middle back pain from sitting


The main reasons why you can get middle back pain from sitting are:

  • that you either bend forward too much,

  • that you’re trying to sit upright without proper support,

  • or that you’re simply sitting for too long.


When you bend your spine forward while sitting for extended periods of time, it can cause your muscles, ligaments, and discs to overstretch and become irritated.


Conversely, if you try to keep a good posture by sitting nice and upright, but without proper back support, your muscles can get tired after a while and go into spasm, resulting in back pain.

Sitting with "good" posture but no support, can also make your back hurt.
Sitting with "good" posture but no support can also make your back hurt.

Our bodies are built for movement. When we don’t move, the circulation to different parts of our body, including our backs, decreases. So, even with the perfect posture, you may still end up with back pain if you remain in one position for too long.

Removing the cause of your back pain


Ergonomic chair-desk-computer setup

Things that might cause you to bend forward too far and for too long are:

  • Your chair is too far away from your desk. This can especially be the case if your armrests prevent you from getting your chair close enough to your desk.

  • Your computer screen is too low.

  • You can even get back pain from standing for long times and having to bend forward to work on a computer or do other stuff on a surface that’s too low.


Here is our article with much more detail on the best ergonomic chair-desk-computer setup to avoid neck pain – the advice in there also applies to middle back pain from sitting.

The top of your screen should be at about eye level when you sit or stand and work.
The top of your screen should be at about eye level when you sit or stand and work.

Proper back support for sitting upright

To sit relaxed, your lower back is the most important area that has to be supported.


If the back of your chair doesn’t support your lower back by itself when you’re sitting upright, stick a cushion or pillow in there for support so that your muscles can get a break from having to keep you upright.


I demonstrate the difference this makes in this part of my video on middle back pain from sitting.


Here are some options to help you with lower back support:

Middle back pain from sitting on the floor?

Teachers often ask me, “My back really hurts when I sit on the floor. What can I do about this?”


The same principles about bending forward and sitting upright without support apply to sitting on the floor. This is especially tricky when you have to work with small children, either as a teacher or with your own.


The best solution is to get up off the floor and use a chair with proper support. If you have a child on your lap, e.g. when you’re reading them a story, take care to lean backwards a bit against something – either the chair back or something else – that can support your back.


There’s always a way to adapt things; it's just that we’re sometimes stuck in the traditional way of thinking about it. So, try to think outside the box and adapt your position.

Climbing a flight of stairs is a great active-break option.
Climbing a flight of stairs is a great active-break option.


Taking regular breaks (e.g. every hour) to get some movement going can make a massive difference to back pain. This is the simplest solution of them all, but often the hardest one to implement!


If you struggle to take breaks during the day, another solution is doing some exercise before and after work.

Stretches and exercises for middle back pain from sitting


So, you've adapted your position so that you're starting to get those structures to relax, and you're not irritating it any further. What stretches and exercises can you do?


Stretches for middle back pain

It’s often tempting to go all out when you’re stretching something that’s painful and uncomfortable, because it feels good in the moment. However, if you are too aggressive with your stretches and it's not a muscle spasm causing your pain but actually an irritated disc or ligament, you can irritate those things even more.


So please be gentle and careful with the following stretches; and especially at the start, just politely ask your back whether it wants to do a particular movement, so that you can learn what it likes and what it dislikes.


1. Back extension stretch

You can do this one right there in your chair.

Back extension stretch in sitting.

📽️ Video demo



  1. Place your hands behind your head.

  2. Lean backward. Don’t tilt your head backwards; you have to arch your back and push out your chest.

  3. Return to the starting position.

  4. Do this 10 to 20 times.


Top tip

  • Dynamic stretching, where you move in and out of the position several times and hold a stretch position for just a second or so before letting go, is better than static stretching, where you hold the stretch for a long time, because the former gets your circulation going.


2. Mid-back rotations

This one can also be done in a chair.

Middle back rotation stretch in sitting.

📽️ Video demo



  1. Either fold your arms across your chest or put your hands behind your head. The latter will give you a bit more spine extension and result in a stronger stretch.

  2. Rotate your upper body side-to-side.

  3. Do this 10 to 20 times.


Top tips

  • Rotate gently – don’t use momentum to twist your body as far as possible.

  • If your back is really sore, drop your arms to your side – the movement should be easier. Don’t push into pain.


3. Side flexion stretch

You can do this standing or sitting, but standing will be easier if your chair has arm rests.

Side flexion stretch in sitting.

📽️ Video demo



  1. Straighten your left arm out to the side, palm of your hand facing forwards, and then slowly raise your arm so that your hand is pointing upwards.

  2. At the same time, have your right arm by your side and lower it down by dropping your right shoulder.

  3. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

  4. Do this 5 to 10 times.


Top tip

  • Try to bend to the side by curving your spine, as opposed to leaning sideways from your hips.


4. Standing curl-down

This is one of my favourites, because you get lovely traction in the spine.

Standing curl down - spinal stretch

📽️ Video demo



  1. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your knees slightly bent.

  2. Put your chin on your chest and tighten up your tummy muscles.

  3. Roll your upper body down, upper back first and then the middle back, until you hang from your hips.

  4. Inhale slowly and deeply, and then exhale slowly – you’ll feel the traction effect in your back even more – and slowly come back up.

  5. Do this 3 to 5 times.


Top tips

  • You don’t have to go as far down as I do in the video – just go to where it’s comfortable.

  • Fold your arms at the bottom for a bit of extra traction.


5. Arm opener stretch

This can be really satisfying, but it is quite a strong stretch; so, don’t do it if your upper back is very painful – rather start with the other ones. This one is more appropriate for a stiff or mildly uncomfortable back.

Arm opener stretch - stronger back and chest stretch in supine.

📽️ Video demo



  1. Lie on your side with your arms straight out in front of you and your hips and knees bent 90 degrees.

  2. Lift the top arm up until it is right over your head and then keep going so that it drops down behind you, all while following your arm with your head.

  3. Drop your arm only as far as gravity will take it; don’t force it further. As you become more flexible, it will drop down further.

  4. Keep your arm level with your shoulder; don’t drop it down nearer to your hips.

  5. Keep your hips vertical; don’t tilt them backwards.

  6. Inhale deeply and slowly (this will move your ribs and therefore also your spine) and then exhale, relaxing into the stretch.

  7. Slowly bring your arm back to the front.

  8. Do this 3 to 5 times on each side.


Top tip

  • Place a cushion or pillow under your head if your neck is uncomfortable.

Strength exercises for middle back pain

In addition to the obvious benefits of strengthening your back muscles, this also improves the circulation in your back, which will contribute to reducing your pain.


1. Rows

An added benefit of rows is that they strengthen your core in addition to your back muscles – if you keep your back nice and straight while doing them.

The row exercise strengthens our upper and middle back.

You can do this sitting or standing, and with an exercise band or on the rowing machine in the gym. These instructions are for seated rows with an exercise band.


📽️ Video demo



  1. Tie the exercise band at about hip height to something sturdy.

  2. Sit upright (imaging trying to “grow tall”, with the top of your head reaching for the ceiling) and grip the ends of the exercise band with your hands and elbows shoulder-width apart.

  3. Pull the two ends of the exercise band towards you while maintaining shoulder width with your hands and elbows. Go until your elbows have gone past your sides.

  4. Don’t just bend your arms; your shoulders should move backwards, and your shoulder blades should move towards each other.

  5. Slowly bring your arms back to their starting position.

  6. Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps with 1 minute rest between sets.


Top tip

  • The exercise band should already have some tension in it in the starting position, otherwise the start of the movement is too easy.


Here is a selection of exercise bands available on Amazon. You can also visit the

TheraBand Store for more options.


2. Back extensions Prone salute

This is a good one if you don’t have exercise bands or access to a rowing machine. It strengthens your back and neck extensor muscles.

The prone salute exercise strengthens our back and neck extensor muscles.

📽️ Video demo



  1. Lie on your front with your forehead on the floor and your palms facing downwards, in line with your head, shoulder-width apart.

  2. Tense your stomach muscles and keep them gently contracted throughout the exercise.

  3. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor; use your back muscles, don’t push with your arms.

  4. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds before coming down slowly.

  5. Rest between repetitions for as long you’ve been holding it.

  6. Do 10 repetitions.


Progressions (making the exercise more difficult)

  1. Place your hands, palms facing downwards, under your forehead. Once you’ve lifted off the floor, lift one arm, hold for a while, drop it down, and then do the same with the other arm.

  2. As above, but lift both arms simultaneously and hold them there.


Top tips

  • If your lower back doesn’t like it when you lie in this position, place a cushion or pillow under your stomach and make sure to contract your stomach muscles.

  • Don’t strain to lift as high as you can; just to where you can feel your back muscles tensing.

How we can help

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

The Sports Injury Physio team

We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine or at least 10 years' experience in the field. But at Sports Injury Physio we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.

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Maryke Louw

About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 20 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


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