Are you suffering from upper back pain? First, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans will suffer from back pain at some point. Second, you have options for treating your pain beyond things like invasive surgeries and pain medications. The key to successfully treating upper back pain rests in properly diagnosing the source of your pain to create a tailored plan for healing. This can be challenging due to the fact that the upper back is so interconnected to various muscle groups that control our movements. Take a look at what everyone dealing with pain in the upper back should know.
What Is Upper Back Pain?
The upper back covers the area spanning from your neck to the bottom of your rib cage. Referred to as the thoracic spine, the upper back consists of 12 vertebrae. It is very important for the health and function of the entire body. What’s more, the large size and interconnectedness of the back with other parts of the body create a scenario where it’s very easy for something to go wrong. Even just a single muscle or joint becoming injured, irritated or inflamed can create very severe, cascading pain that impacts the entire body.
What Are the Signs of Upper Back Pain?
While the pain that you can feel in the portion of your back covering your neck to the bottom of your rib cage is the most obvious sign of upper back pain, it can be difficult to diagnose exactly what is happening with your back. What’s interesting about upper back pain is that it can be very acute compared to the dull ache that is commonly felt with lower back pain. Here’s a look at common ways that upper back pain is experienced:
- A sharp, stabbing pain is the most common symptom of upper back pain. Many people experience knife-like, throbbing pain and burning. The pain is usually centralized in one spot. However, it may web out to other areas.
- Some people with upper back issues experience general discomfort and strain in the area instead of pain.
- Pain can actually travel from a nerve in the upper back to other parts of the body to create sharp, radiating “stabs.” These pains typically reach the arms, chest, stomach and sides. While some people feel dull trickles of pain, others actually feel sharp “shocks” in the impacted areas. Typically, radiating pain will happen on whatever side of the body the back pain is originating from.
- Upper back pain can manifest as sensations of tingling, pins-and-needles feelings, numbness and weakness. Typically, the “tingling” sensations run from nerves in the thoracic spine to other parts of the body.
- Some people with upper back injuries actually feel stiffness instead of acute pain. In some cases, the stiffness only manifests after a person has experienced sharp pains and soreness for a prolonged period. The stiffness often reduces mobility and range of motion by making movements rigid and strained.
It’s possible for a person to experience all of the different “pain” manifestations of back pain over time. In fact, what starts off as general discomfort could quickly build up to acute pain, radiating pain, and stiffness if a person allows a back issue to go untreated. Over time, an issue that merely caused discomfort at first can limit a person’s ability to move without pain, sleep without pain or lift objects. Pain can also be intermittent. A person who feels great when they wake up in the morning could be in distress by the end of the day due to the way that movements can stress or fatigue the thoracic spine.
What Causes Upper Back Pain?
Upper back pain has many triggers. In some cases, a specific moment in time can cause back pain that lasts for years. Other people spend years making repetitive motions that seem to make back pain appear one day “out of the blue.” Here’s a look at why people get upper back pain:
- Falls: A fall is one of the most common causes of upper back pain. While pain may appear suddenly after a fall, it can also be either gradual are delayed in its onset.
- Whiplash: While many people think of whiplash strictly as a neck injury, it can generate pain in the upper back. It’s important to consider treatment for whiplash if you’re experiencing upper back pain after being in an automobile accident.
- Repetitive Stress: Repetitive movements that put pressure on the thoracic spine can cause upper back pain. For many people, jobs that require them to lift heavy objects can cause back problems over time. However, even a desk job can be a risk factor for developing upper back pain if improper posture is used.
- Heavy, Unbalanced Purses and Bags: Yes, the weight of heavy purses and bags can throw off alignment in the thoracic spine by placing unbalanced strain on the trapezius muscle.
- Poor Posture: Sitting and standing with poor posture can cause back pain over time. It’s important to keep the head in a neutral position with the back supported if you must sit for long hours. Many people “hunch” forward without creating a supportive environment for their back when working at their desks.
- Mental Stress: Stress alone can trigger an upper back problem. When we’re stressed, our muscles contract as part of something called the “muscle guarding” instinct. Unfortunately, being in a state of chronic stress can place great strain on our muscles. This puts a person at risk for developing chronic tightness.
Factors like poor posture, strain, and carrying heavy items can lead to subluxations that are at the root of our upper back pain. A subluxation is a misalignment of the vertebrae that creates dysfunction within the central nervous system. Subluxations can sometimes be visually noticeable in head posture and shoulder alignment. It’s important to have subluxations corrected because they have the potential to create symptoms like severe pain, lowered immune function, and fatigue that can greatly reduce overall health and quality of life.
Other Causes of Upper Back Pain
It’s possible for upper back pain to be caused by an underlying medical condition. The most common non-lifestyle cause of upper back pain is scoliosis. Scoliosis is likely if you can observe an extreme curve to one side of your back. While most cases of scoliosis are diagnosed during childhood, many adults find out that they have the condition much later in life. In studies, chiropractic techniques have created noticeable improvements among scoliosis patients in just four weeks. A herniated disc could also be to blame for upper back pain. When discs within the cervical spine bulge, it’s very common for pain and pressure to form in the spine.
How Is Upper Back Pain Treated?
Chiropractic care is considered a very safe and effective treatment for upper back pain. For many people, it provides an alternative to surgical options that come with risks and recovery time. Many people see improvements in the way they feel after just one session. Chiropractors are trained to detect and correct spinal misalignments and blockages that are causing upper back pain. A treatment plan typically consists of manual adjustments, therapeutic massage, posture correction, and stretching. At Integrative Physical Health, we take a holistic approach to helping our patients treat upper back pain because we understand the importance of deep healing over simply putting a bandage over pain. Our team will work with you to create a “whole body” treatment for the back pain that is reducing your quality of life, preventing you from doing things in life, and putting your health at risk. Contact our office today for a consultation.