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If you’re struggling with spine and upper back tightness or discomfort, you’re definitely not alone. Anybody who spends a lot of time typing, driving, or using a smartphone or other handheld device is susceptible. In all cases, people commonly hunch their shoulders and are often tense. And the more time you spend in a hunched position, the more your muscles and spine adapt, often leading to decreased spinal mobility, muscle tightness and discomfort.

Fortunately, a medicine ball provides an inexpensive and versatile tool for addressing spinal stiffness and discomfort.

Could this help you?

If you have stiffness in your upper (thoracic) spine, this exercise is worth trying.

What you’ll need

  • At Hosmer Chiropractic Health, we use 6-pound medicine balls from Perform Better.
  • Adjust the air pressure based on what feels comfortable and enables you to stay balanced and stable. If you are larger/heavier, you will likely prefer higher air pressure.  If you are smaller/lighter, you may need to deflate the ball to achieve comfort and stability.
  • A comfortable floor space to lay down and perform exercises with the ball


Relax your upper back and restore movement to your spine by moving and resting on the ball (using the ball as a fulcrum) as prescribed in the video below.

Exercise overview

The exercise itself involves exploring the upper regions of your back for tight spots and then using a combination of rest and movements to loosen them up. By providing a fulcrum on which to extend and “stretch” your spinal joints, the exercise helps increase thoracic mobility. The mix of compression and movement also helps muscles stretch and relax while breaking up adhesions. See the video below for a demonstration.

Frequency and tips

  • Perform the exercise one time a day working down your entire thoracic spine.
  • Initially, spend about 2 – 3 minutes total.
  • Over the course of a few weeks, work up to about 4 – 5 minutes.
  • When you find a tight or sore spot, spend time on it
  • Let your back extend over it to comfort levels
  • Flex to both sides as you are extended
  • Try to stay on a sore spot until pain decreases noticeably (by about a third on a scale of 1 to 10)
  • If it becomes harder to find sore or uncomfortable spots, try increasing the ball pressure in slight increments until that changes

How to stay safe

  • While you can use the ball throughout much of your upper and lower back, never use it directly over your lumbar spine. To identify the area to avoid, do the following:Place your hand with your palm facing out (fingers together) on your lower back with your pinky through your belt loop and extend your thumb upward. This is the area you should avoid.
  • Support your neck by placing your hands behind your head and holding it in a neutral position
  • As you are performing the exercises, stop and consult your doctor if you notice any of the following in any area of your back: BurningTingling Electric pain (this means you probably irritated a nerve and that shouldn’t happen)
  • Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise.

We’re here to help

Many of our patients who use this exercise rave about the benefits and look forward to their time on the ball. The best part is that you can do it virtually anywhere and it only takes about $30 to get a medicine ball and get started. If you need a ball, we have some available at our clinics or you can find them at sports retailers or online.