Upper back pain is a common problem, but it isn’t untreatable. Here’s our guide to common causes and effective treatments to alleviate the pain.
Upper back pain is, unfortunately, quite prevalent in our industrialized society. Most office jobs create numerous opportunities for it, and a largely sedentary lifestyle outside of work can further aggravate it. While it’s usually not a symptom of a greater injury, pain in the upper back can still interfere with your daily life and prevent proper functioning. Fortunately, it can be easily remedied with a proactive treatment plan and some simple lifestyle changes.
Causes of Upper Back Pain
While upper back pain can be caused by trauma or injury, it’s more often a product of bad posture or prolonged stress on the muscles. Most desk jobs, for example, require extended periods spent sitting in front of a computer, which places sustained pressure on the neck and back while encouraging slouching. As a result, many workers inadvertently develop neck or shoulder pain.
The majority of upper back pain is caused by either myofascial irritation or joint dysfunction. Myofascial irritation is common in the large muscles of the upper back, such as those connected to the shoulder blade and the back of the rib cage. This type of upper back pain often results from pressure on underdeveloped muscles or overuse injuries, but it can also be caused by muscle strains and traumatic injuries such as vertebral fractures. Many of these injuries can damage surrounding joints, resulting in dysfunction that can create additional pain. Your orthopedic specialist can identify the specific cause with an X-ray and MRIs.
Since the upper back and thoracic spine have a limited range of motion, upper back pain is very rarely caused by disc herniations, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc diseases. While just under 1% of all disc herniations occur in the thoracic spine, they more often occur in the lumbar region, creating pain and stiffness in the lower back.
Treatment and Care
Regardless of its specific cause, most cases of upper back pain can be easily treated with some combination of rest, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. Some patients may also benefit from trigger point injections and acupuncture. Your doctor or orthopedic specialist will likely recommend a specialized course of treatment tailored to your specific symptoms.
Since rest contributes significantly to musculoskeletal healing, sleeping well is often the most effective treatment for upper back pain. While many patients struggle to sleep at night, lying down without arching or flattening the back can alleviate much of the discomfort, helping them to fall asleep and preventing further pain from developing overnight. If symptoms persist in this position, a doctor or physical therapist can help you develop the correct sleeping posture.
While many of these treatments offer temporary relief, remember that upper back pain is most effectively treated with some significant lifestyle changes. Improving posture, developing effective stress management techniques, and regularly exercising can work to eliminate any underlying causes, gradually lessening pain and discomfort and ensuring long-term relief.