upper back pain

“Good posture can be successfully acquired only when the entire mechanism of the body is under perfect control.” – Joseph Pilates

Back pain is one of the most common complaints among adults worldwide. In the United States alone, the number of people suffering from back pain at some point is in the millions.

It’s been estimated that approximately half of all working Americans suffer from some level of  back pain symptoms each year. And some experts estimate that as many as 80 percent of Americans will experience a back problem at some time in their lives.

According to one report from Georgetown University,

“Nearly 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain. Some 16 million adults — 8 percent of all adults — experience persistent or chronic back pain, and as a result are limited in certain everyday activities. Back pain is the sixth most costly condition in the United States.”

Those figures were gathered almost 20 years ago, but the percentage of adults experiencing chronic pain has remained consistent.

A Closer Look at Upper Back Pain

How do we distinguish the physiology of the “upper” back region from the “lower” back?

The upper back is generally defined as the area from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage. There are 12 vertebral bones that make up the upper back, often called the thoracic spine.

Upper back pain can emanate from any location between these bones.

Unfortunately, there are a myriad of potential reasons that people suffer from upper back pain. Some causes manifest as short-term pain that can vary in degree and intensity. Others can result in long-term, or chronic, upper back pain.

A few of the much less common causes include the following:

  • scoliosis
  • fibromyalgia
  • spinal deformity
  • problematic kyphosis
  • spinal infection

While these conditions are serious, they do not always result in upper back pain although that can actually be a symptom in some cases.

Upper back pain is often referred to as “thoracic spine pain” or TSP, and the more common causes are not the result of diseases, however, and can often be easily treated. 

Common Causes of Upper Back Pain

Understanding the proper course of therapy treatment for chronic upper back pain begins with determining the real cause of your pain and the nature of it.

There are a number of more common reasons for upper back pain. Here are a few:

Muscle Atrophy and Posture

Upper back muscles are prone to atrophying, or deconditioning, as a result of sitting at a desk or walking and standing with incorrect posture. This atrophy of the neck, shoulder and thoracic muscles can cause a loss of strength and mass.

Eventually, the weakening of these muscles can result in pain as they become more prone to strains or irritation. In addition, poor sitting posture can result in pressure from gravity and the body itself as it pushes on the spine, neck, discs, and ligaments. Over time, this pressure can lead to pain and other conditions.

Muscle Overuse

This typically occurs due to repeating the same motions over time and can result in muscle strain, tightness, irritation, and chronic pain. 

An example of how this occurs is a construction laborer who performs a similar motion every day with certain tools, which can often take a toll on specific muscle groups. Many repetitive actions can cause upper back pain such as lifting objects above the head throughout the day, for example.

Traumatic injury

This may be the result of car accidents, slipping and falling, lifting a heavy item incorrectly, sports injury, or even working out too hard or incorrectly. The injury may be readily apparent and immediately painful. Sometimes, however, the pain may not develop until later or even the following day. 

Some traumatic injuries can be quite severe and result in conditions such as fractured vertebrae or torn ligaments, leading to other complications, including chronic pain and possibly nerve damage.

Herniated Disc

While herniated discs occur more commonly in the lower back, they can sometimes happen in the upper back too. A herniated disc is a fragment of the disc nucleus that is pushed out of the annulus, or outer layer, into the spinal canal through a tear or rupture in the annulus.

A thoracic herniated disc can cause upper back pain and other symptoms, such as radiating pain or numbness. This occurs as the herniated disc compresses the nearby nerve. A pinched nerve in the middle back can cause issue beyond the upper back and may cause:

  • numbness and pain in the arms or legs
  • problems with controlling urination
  • weakness or loss of control in the legs

Myofascial Pain

According the Mayo Clinic:

“Myofascial pain syndrome is caused by a stimulus, such as muscle tightness, that sets off trigger points in your muscles. Factors that may increase your risk of muscle trigger points include: Muscle injury. An acute muscle injury or continual muscle stress may lead to the development of trigger points.”

And Veritas Health’s website Spine-Health notes that the large upper back muscles are prone to developing myofascial pain that radiates from sensitive points, called trigger points throughout muscle tissue. Muscular irritation and upper back pain is due to muscle weakness and repetitive motions.

Preventing Upper Back Pain

While it may not be possible to prevent all causes of upper back pain, there are some easy steps people can take to prevent or eliminate some of the more common causes.

An article from Medical News Today suggests the following:

  • Take regular breaks from sitting or lying down to stretch and move different muscle groups.
  • Take frequent breaks when working at a desk to stretch, so the muscles stay loose and strong.
  • Take a few minutes to stretch the muscles or warm up the body before any activities.
  • People who lift heavy objects should avoid twisting or lifting with their back.
  • Have regular massages to help work out the tension of the muscles.
  • Work with a physical therapist to strengthen weak muscles and keep pressure off the joints.
  • Avoid wearing heavy backpacks or purses.
  • Be conscious of posture at all times, walking upright and sitting correctly, using back supports if necessary.

Finding Chronic Pain Relief: Pain and Performance Solutions

So, you’re suffering from chronic pain and you are starting to believe that real relief may never happen. If you have tried and have been unable to find relief, we invite you to call us at Pain and Performance Solutions.

When you come to your first appointment, we will learn about your present discomfort as well as any history of discomfort. Finding chronic pain relief with Pain and Performance Solutions begins with an understanding of when and how your pain started.

A full examination will help us determine which form of treatment is best suited to get you on your road to recovery. Your trust in us is key, as is your honesty. Ultimately, getting your body healthy and working properly is the only way to achieve total recovery.

So, don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here to help and will answer any questions that you may have. You can reach us at (707) 636-4404 or by filling out our online contact form.