The Universal Guide To Upper Back Pain: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know Straight From The Experts
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Upper back pain can be a little like salsa or Buffalo wingswe know, bear with us.
- First, theres mild: Just a twinge of the tastebuds if were talking sauce, and slight pain thats easy to ignore when it comes to the upper back.
- Then theres medium/moderate: Now were getting somewhere. Youre gonna feel it, but usually only if you take a deep breath or sneeze or move too quickly.
- Finally, weve got spicy: the equivalent to pain so intense you feel the burn from doing the simplest daily tasks, or even nothing at all!
Upper back pain is usually caused by soft tissue injuries, such as sprains or strains, muscle tension caused by poor posture, or looking downward for long time periods. Photo Source:123RF.com. Thing is, upper back pain affects everyone differently. Partly thats because there are so many possible reasons for your upper back pain. The first step in solving your upper back pain problem is understanding why its happening. To do that, start with learning your anatomy.
Diagnosis Of Upper Back Pain
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They may then be able to diagnose and explain the cause of your back pain or they may need to refer you for some tests. Upper back pain is often caused by muscle strain, but sometimes there might be a more serious cause. There are particular symptoms your doctor will look for that may indicate this. They call these red flags and they include:
- a recent injury to your back such as a car accident or a fall
- back pain caused by a minor injury or lifting something heavy particularly if you have osteoporosis
- if youve had cancer or you have a weakened immune system
- other symptoms such as a fever, unexplained weight loss and chills
- a recent bacterial infection
- if youre younger than 20 or older than 50
Your doctor will also ask you about the pain to understand how severe it is and what could be causing it. It can also mean a red flag if:
- symptoms havent eased despite changing position or resting
- youve had pain for more than two weeks despite having treatment
- you have pain that you dont think has been caused by a sprain or strain in your upper back
- you are very stiff in the morning
- you have pain all the time and its getting worse
Your doctor may ask if youve had any weakness in your legs, or any bladder and bowel problems such as incontinence. This may point towards pressure on the nerves in your spine or spinal cord, which could be caused by a slipped disc or injury.
Upper Back Pain Caused By Pandemic
The most common causes of back pain and joint pain include poor posture, lumbar muscle strain, and disc herniations among others. With your daily routine disrupted by coronavirus infection, youre more likely to experience these mild symptoms.
The number of disc herniation cases has dramatically spiked since the pandemic began. With everyone advised to stay indoors, people have to work from the safety of their homes, so it shouldnt be surprising that some of them will develop disc herniation along the way.
Additionally, the COVID situation resulted in people engaging less in physical activities. People who used to hit the gym or walk their dogs in the park wont be able to do those things until the pandemic ends. This lack of movement will gradually take its toll on your muscles, weakening them slowly before eventually leading to upper back pain.
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Causes And Diagnosis Of A Pulled Back Muscle
Trauma, stress, and tension may all cause strains and sprains. Some of the most common causes include:
- Falling, especially if you hit the ground hard or fall in an awkward position.
- Repetitive movements that stress and irritate the back muscles.
- Unsafe lifting, lifting while twisting, or lifting a very heavy object. Parents sometimes injure their backs throwing or playing with children.
- Excess weight that puts excess strain on back muscles. People who are overweight, people who suddenly gain weight, and pregnant women are more vulnerable to pulled muscles.
- A sedentary lifestyle. This may weaken the back, increasing the risk of injuries.
- Poor posture when sitting or bad form when doing athletic activities.
A medical professional may suspect a strain or sprain based on symptoms and your medical history. If another injury, such as a broken bone or herniated disc, is possible, the provider may do other tests, such as an x-ray or MRI scan.3
Preventing Upper Back Pain
While back pain is common, its possible to lower your risk of getting upper back pain. Here are some tips:
- Practice good posture. Sit and stand up straight. When you sit, position your hips and knees at 90 degrees.
- Exercise.Cardio and resistance training will strengthen your back muscles and lower your risk of injury.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can place stress on the back.
- Quit or avoid smoking. This will help you quickly heal after a back injury. Quitting is often difficult, but a doctor can help you develop a smoking cessation plan right for you.
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How To Relieve Back Pain
The following tips may help reduce your back pain and speed up your recovery:
- stay as active as possible and try to continue your daily activities this is 1 of the most important things you can do, as resting for long periods is likely to make the pain worse
- try exercises and stretches for back pain other activities such as walking, swimming, yoga and pilates may also be helpful
- take anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen remember to check the medicine is safe for you to take and ask a pharmacist if you’re not sure
- use hot or cold compression packs for short-term relief you can buy these from a pharmacy, or a hot water bottle or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth or towel will work just as well
Although it can be difficult, it helps if you stay optimistic and recognise that your pain should get better. People who manage to stay positive despite their pain tend to recover quicker.
Back pain usually gets better on its own within a few weeks or months and you may not need to see a doctor or other healthcare professional.
But it’s a good idea to get help if:
- the pain does not start to improve within a few weeks
- the pain stops you doing your day-to-day activities
- the pain is very severe or gets worse over time
- you’re worried about the pain or struggling to cope
If you see a GP they will ask about your symptoms, examine your back and discuss possible treatments.
They may refer you to a specialist doctor or a physiotherapist for further help.
Could Upper Back Pain Mean Something More Serious
There is always a chance that your upper back pain could be caused by a much bigger problem. Degenerative Disc Disease , a herniated disc, and osteoarthritis are possible underlying problems causing your upper back pain. Shapiro cautions that while pain should never be ignored, normal muscle soreness from exercising is nothing to be concerned about. He warns, however, that you should question intense pain that doesnt go away over time. If you notice symptoms like fever, chills, tingling in your chest or stomach along with your upper back pain you should see your doctor.
Sharp, shooting, radiating, severe, unexplained acute pain or chronic pain lasting more than a few days could be your body’s way of telling you that something more serious is going on, Shapiro says.
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Trigger Point Release In Between Shoulder Blades
How it helps:
The first thing you need to do is relieve the trigger points that may have formed in and around your shoulder blades. By using a massage ball you can find a tender spot and apply pressure in the exact spot that you feel pain.
How to do it:
- Begin lying on your back
- Place a massage ball in between the shoulder blades
- Once you find a tender spot, just hold the ball in that place and apply more pressure with your body weight.
- Hold the pressure on that spot for at least 30 seconds
- Find the next spot and repeat the same process
When To See A Doctor
If youâre like most people with upper and middle back pain, youâll be able to manage your symptoms at home. Over-the-counter pain relievers, heat, or ice may be enough to ease your condition.
You should call your doctor, though, if your pain becomes too intense or starts to keep you away from your daily activities.
Certain symptoms require fast attention. They include:
- Losing control of your bowels or bladder.
- Fever along with pain.
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Treatments For Back Pain From A Specialist
A GP, specialist or physiotherapist may recommend extra treatments if they do not think your pain will improve with self-help measures alone.
These may include:
- group exercise classes where you’re taught exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve your posture
- manual therapy treatments, such as manipulating the spine and massage, which are usually done by a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath
- psychological support, such as cognitive behavioural therapy , which can be a useful part of treatment if you’re struggling to cope with pain
Some people choose to see a therapist for manual therapy without seeing a GP first. If you want to do this, you’ll usually need to pay for private treatment.
Surgery is generally only considered in the small number of cases where back pain is caused by a specific medical condition.
Diagnosis For Upper Back Pain
Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose upper back pain. To get the diagnosis, your doctor may ask you to:
- Answer questions about your health history, symptoms, and physical activities.
- Complete a physical exam.
In some cases, your doctor may also order an:
- X-ray, which uses radiation similar to radio waves that can produce pictures of the inside of the human body.
- Magnetic resonance imaging scan, which uses a magnetic field with radio waves to take pictures of the inside of the human body. It can often show problems that other medical imaging techniques may miss.
A health care provider will interview you to help determine a diagnosis. The provider may also want to order other tests to check for any other potential causes of your upper back pain.
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% Of People Will Experience Back Pain At Some Time But There Are Ways To Find Relief
As people enter middle age, they are more likely to experience bouts of low back pain. In fact, according to the Harvard Special Health Report Men’s Health: Fifty and Forward, back pain affects about four in five Americans at some point in their lives and equally strikes men and women.
Age is often the culprit. Over time, the bones and joints in your lower back begin to change. Your discs tend to wear out and sometimes become fragmented. These structural alterations sometimes cause pain.
Another cause of low back pain, although it occurs less often, is a herniated disc. Sometimes, a disc pushes outside the space between the bones and compresses a nerve at the point where it branches off the spinal cord. When the sciatic nerve that leads into the buttocks and leg is affected, the pain is called sciatica.
Yet, most cases of low back pain stem from strain or sprain due to simple overuse, unaccustomed activity, excessive lifting, or an accident. In most cases the best move is to wait and see if the pain resolves on its own. If the pain does not improve after three to four days, then it’s time to see a doctor.
However, depending on the source of your back pain and its severity, you might try a few home remedies for low back pain to help ease the pain until your back returns to normal. Here are several options to consider:
Complementary therapies. Several types of complementary therapy may be helpful for relief from low back pain. These include:
Upper Back Pain Exercises
Exercise is essential for upper back and neck health because it stimulates blood flow, which helps the discs in your back stay healthy. You can also strengthen the muscles in your upper back with particular exercises.
- Arm Reach: Get down on your hands and knees with your neck and back parallel to the ground. Lift one arm at a time for five seconds without raising your head. Repeat each arm ten times.
- Arm Slides: Stand against a wall with your back, elbows, and wrists. Raise your hands as high as you can while keeping your arms and wrists against the wall, then return to the starting position. Repeat ten times more.
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Bonus Tip: Consider Taking A Vitamin D3 Supplement
If your doctor agrees, consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement. Vitamin D is essential for bone, neuromuscular, and immune system function. Taking a vitamin D3 supplement can help reduce back pain by increasing the absorption of calcium in your body and improving bone strength.15
See Calcium and Vitamin D Requirements
Finding the perfect pain relief technique is usually a process of trial and error, making it worth exploring various approaches. Try these natural pain-relieving strategies for your back pain and see what works best for you. Severe pain that is not relieved by self-care must be evaluated by a health professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Limit Foods And Drinks That Give You Gas
Moderating foods and drinks that make you gassy can also help stave off back pain. Per the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, some common culprits include:
- High-fiber foods like beans, fruits and whole grains
- Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and asparagus
- Fermented foods like kombucha or kimchi
- Dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant
- Sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners
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Exercise And Physical Therapy
Bed rest, which used to be what doctors advised for back pain, may do more harm than good. It could slow your recovery and cause new problems.
With acute pain, you should be able to start normal, easy activity, like walking, within a few days. After that, gradually ramp back up to your usual exercise level.
Strengthening both your abdominal and back muscles helps stabilize your spine. Pilates exercises build these core muscles. You can help prevent further back injury by learning — and doing — gentle stretching exercises and the right way to lift things.
Exercising in the water is especially safe for a sore back. The water supports some of your weight, which can make you more comfortable, and it offers gentle resistance, which builds your strength. Aquatic therapy can make you more flexible and lessen pain for chronic low back problems.
Yoga may help your flexibility, strength, and sense of balance. It’s good for stress relief, which will also help you deal with the pain.
Physical therapy focuses on managing or preventing injuries or disabilities. PT helps relieve pain, promote healing, and restore function and movement.
Your treatment plan may involve visits to a specialist called a physical therapist. They focus on easing pain with passive or active therapy. Examples of passive physical therapy include:
- Manual therapies
Examples of active physical therapy include:
Bstretches To The Joints
Now that all of the muscles have been stretched, the aim of the following 3 exercises is to get the joints in the upper back moving.
- Sit down on a chair.
- Place your hand on the outer side of the opposite knee.
- Using the other arm, hook your elbow onto the back of the chair.
- Using your arms as leverage, start to rotate your spine.
- Aim to minimize the movement in the lower back. The majority of the movement should ideally occur in the upper back.
- Perform 30 repetitions.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Sit on the floor with your legs towards your left.
- Place the right hand on the floor to your right side.
- Keep the right arm completely straight throughout this stretch.
- Relax your right shoulder as you lean your weight onto the right arm.
- Glide/Shift your torso towards the right.
- Aim to feel a stretch in the right upper back region.
- You can increase the stretch by taking a deep breath in.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Lie down on the floor.
- Place a foam roller directly under the upper back region.
- Support the back of your head with your fingers.
- Slowly arch your upper back backwards.
- Make sure to keep your lower ribs down to prevent your lower back from over arching.
- Perform 30 repetitions.
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Your Upper Back & Neck Posture Is Crucial
Considering that muscle imbalances and poor posture can result from sitting at a computer/looking at smart phones, lets discuss what happens when youre in this position typically, this is what happens:
Your Head will protrude forward Your shoulders will roll forwards Increased Kyphosis
Over time, this abnormal positioning can lead to certain muscles and ligaments being overused , while other muscles and ligaments become underused This can lead to pain.
When To Seek Medical Help
If you have a new pain in your back for two days, but it goes away, you may be fine. Anything that is progressively getting worse or more painful, however, may need to get upper back spasm treatment.
Simple spasms that are focused on the muscles without systemic or nerve-related symptoms should not be of any worry, says Mikhael.
However, he says these spasms can be of concern if you also have any tingling, weakness or numbness in the upper back, arms or legs. Other warning signs include:
- Overall weakness
- Major weight loss
- Any other symptoms that affect the whole body
These can be signs of a more serious spine condition such as a bulging spinal disc or narrowing of the spine. They can also be caused by cancer, infection, or compression fractures of the vertebrae.
Tauberg says other signs that a muscle spasm may be more serious include:
- Feeling light-headed, nauseous, or dizzy
- Heat rash, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, which can occur after working or exercising in a hot environment
- Having repeated muscle spasms in the same part of the body
If rest and self-care dont relieve the muscle spasmsor if you have any serious symptomsseek medical help.
If you are worried about a muscle spasm that you have had or are having, it is best to consult with a trained professional about your particular condition, says Tauberg.
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