Pulled Upper Back Muscle – Causes, Remedies and Exercises

pulled muscle in upper back

A pulled upper back muscle happens when the upper back muscles tear or overly stretch, causing pain, especially between the bones. The upper back is the region running from the neck’s base to the bottom of the rib cage. It consists of 12 bones that are medically referred to as the thoracic spine. The pain felt may feel like a burning or pulling sensation and may be felt in one specific spot or may radiate to other neck or back areas. Other symptoms may manifest as cramping, swelling, spasms of the muscles, or inflammation. The spine shares its supporting functions with nearby muscles.

The upper back muscles involved are; The Trapezius– close to the shoulder blade that helps in standing straight and throwing and Rhomboids- found adjacent to the trapezius and help in pulling and supporting the shoulders. It is utterly essential to keep your body’s upper back pain-free, and you can achieve this through simple treatments and stretching exercises. Do not perform the activities forcefully to prevent pain aggression.


  • Poor posture.
  • An injury.
  • Muscle overuse.
  • Heavy lifting.
  • Hunching over the computer for long periods.
  • A pinched spine nerve close to the ribs.
  • A herniated disc.
  • Osteoarthritis- The cartilage that protects the bones may wear down and cause upper back pain as the spine is mainly affected.
  • Gallstones- They can cause pain in between the shoulder blades.
  • Specific types of cancer such as lung cancer.

Common remedies

Rest – take a rest from anything that may impact your upper back muscles.

Hot and cold therapy – Ice will help reduce swelling and pain, while heat will ease stiffness and improve the upper muscle mobility. They work by compression. Use for approximately fifteen minutes up to four times a day.

Dieting – Avoid the types of foods that may cause inflammation, such as processed and junk foods. Consume more fruits and vegetables.

Prescribed medication – To ease the pain brought about by a pulled muscle in the upper back, an anti-inflammatory drug or a muscle relaxant can be administered. Anti-depressants may be prescribed where the physician suspects depression as a cause. Take medicine when natural remedies fail, as medications may bring about adverse effects.

Chin tuck – Sit on a chair with your shoulders down and relaxed and pull the chin inwards towards the neck. Make a count of up to five, relax and repeat about ten times.

Shoulder blade squeeze – Place your hands on your thighs and keep the shoulders down, approximately at chin level. Squeeze together the shoulder blades in a slow manner, then count to five. Relax and repeat about three to four times.

Upper back massage – A light massage will increase blood circulation to the injured tissue.


Pulled upper back muscle exercises

1. Levator Scapulae Stretch

The stretch relieves tension in the neck and improves posture.


  • Sit on a chair comfortably.
  • Take the shoulders away from the ears to squeeze the back muscles. It will ensure that you do not bend.
  • Using your right hand, hold the chair’s bottom.
  • Move the chin towards your chest.
  • Rotate your head towards your left shoulder.
  • Move the left hand to the top of your skull for the fingers to gently grip around your head.
  • Deeply inhale and while releasing, gently pull the head down, moving it towards the armpit in such a way that pressure is felt along the right side of your neck.
  • Release the head slowly and restore your back to its usual positioning.
  • Repeat the actions for the alternate sides.
  • Perform three stretches for each side.
Levator Scapulae stretch
Image by www.h2tmuscleclinic.com

2. Upper Trapezius Stretch

It works to reduce discomfort in the neck and the trapezius muscle.


  • Start by moving your head towards your left shoulder, ensuring that the ear is as close as possible to this shoulder. Try not to let the right shoulder rise to retain the shoulders at the same level.
  • Raise your left arm over your head for its palm to rest on the right cheek. The hand should rest on the cheekbone without building pressure on the neck.
  • Inhale into your diaphragm.
  • Release air without any force.
  • Gradually breathe for 30 seconds before lifting your hand and regaining the average head position.
  • Repeat the actions with the other shoulder.
Upper Trapezius Stretch
Image by http://www.thomasmemoriallibrary.org/

3. Child’s pose

It relieves shoulder and upper back tension. Its targets are the portions of the back susceptible to pressure.


  • Kneel with your palms on your thighs and knees apart at hip-width.
  • Deeply inhale.
  • While exhaling, drop your torso with your belly on your thighs and hands stretched front and outwards.
  • Keep your hands on each side of the body and the palms facing upwards. Have the forehead relaxed on the floor.
  • Take long, multiple breaths into your diaphragm.
  • Each time you exhale, unwind your neck and back with the shoulders fluxed above your legs and onto the ground.
childs pose

4. Seated Cat cow pose

The cat pose fortifies the spine relieving tension in the neck area and the upper back, while the cow pose kindles the root of the spine and tailbone.


  • Sit on the edge of a chair, resting your hands on the knees and feet kept at hip distance.
  • While inhaling, look upwards, raising the chin and chest. Enlarge the chest area and pull the shoulders backward.
  • Round the spine and exhale.
  • Repeat the exercise about five times.
Seated Cat Cow Pose


A pulled muscle in upper back will tear or stretch the tissues within the thoracic spine, causing pain and discomfort. It should, however, not be a cause for panic. The good news is, one can manage most of the pain with simple remedies and regular stretch exercises. The treatment success, primarily for pain relief, depends heavily on what is causing the pain. If your symptoms become severe even with stretching exercises, a professional may be consulted. Diagnosing the cause of your upper back pain is the number one solution to treatment. Trust that most of the pain will get better with time.

Suggested articles:
4 Simple Upper Back Stretches To Relieve Tension And Pain
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Thecal Sac – Compression, Causes, Effects and Treatment
How to Fix Lumbar Hyperlordosis – Top 5 Exercises to Try at Home
Herniated Disc L5/S1 – Basics, Symptoms and Treatment
How to Fix Upper Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades
Dislocated Rib – Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

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