Preventing Upper Back Pain
While back pain is common, its possible to lower your risk of getting musculoskeletal 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.
When To Call A Doctor
911 or other emergency services immediately if:
- Back pain occurs with chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in your chest.
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
- A fast or uneven heartbeat.
- You have a new loss of bowel or bladder control.
- You have new or worse numbness in your legs.
- You have new or worse weakness in your legs.
- You have new or increased back pain with fever, painful urination, or other signs of a urinary tract infection.
Appropriate Opioid Use Special Considerations Potential Side Effects And Working With Your Prescriber To Maximize Control Of Your Back/neck Pain
Opioids are a misunderstood class of prescription pain medications. Because of certain controversies surrounding opioids, some doctors may shy away from prescribing them. Similarly, some patients may feel uncomfortable taking an opioid to reduce and manage back or neck pain because they’re afraid of becoming addicted.
Opioids are powerful prescription-only analgesics. Photo Source: 123RF.com.
Your doctor may prescribe an opioid to help reduce and manage your moderate to severe pain that may be acute, chronic or episodic. Many causes of spine-related pain may fit into one of those descriptions, such as cancer and post-operative pain.
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What Is Upper And Middle Back Pain
Upper and middle back pain is pain that occurs anywhere from the base of your neck to the bottom of your rib cage. Your ribs attach to the sternum and attach to and wrap around your back. If a nerve in this area is pinched, irritated, or injured, you may also feel pain in other places where the nerve travels. For example, you may have pain in your arms, legs, chest, and belly.
The upper and middle back is called the thoracic spine. Back pain in this area is less common than low back or neck pain. That’s because the bones in the upper and middle back don’t move as much as the lower back or neck bones.
Back Or Neck Pain Medication What Can Over
When you’re looking for some immediate back or neck pain relief, your healthcare provider will likely suggest taking an over-the-counter pain medication. But there are several types, and the trick is knowing which to choose, and why.
First let’s talk about what is meant by types of over-the-counter pain medication. These are distinguished by the active ingredient, which is the chemical substance that makes the changes, for example, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, etc., that are stated on the drug package labels.
As youll see, active ingredients can be grouped together into drug classes. As far as over-the-counter pain drugs go, the two main classes are NSAIDs and analgesics . Sometimes a drug will serve both purposes other times it will not.
All but one of the drugs described here are over-the-counter NSAIDs, which can reduce pain, fever and inflammation. COX-2 inhibitors, another kind of NSAID, may also be helpful in treating your symptoms, but these drugs are available by prescription only.
Most drugs come with a long list of side effects, and NSAIDs are no different. Some NSAID side effects can be very dangerous to your health the biggest risks of taking this type of drug are renal problems, heart attack, and stomach ulcers.
And finally, the drugs discussed below are available as a prescription in higher doses.
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Stretches For Upper Back Pain
Because tight muscles are likely the source of much of your pain, stretching is perhaps the most obvious method to remove upper back pain. Always warm-up before any exercises or stretches that you may perform for pain relief.
- Shoulder Roll: Roll your shoulders forward, forming smaller circles as you go. Ten times in a row, then ten times in the opposite direction.
- Butterfly: Your left palm should be on your left shoulder, and your right palm should be on your right shoulder. With your elbows together, hold for five seconds until you feel a stretch in your upper back. Repeat ten times more.
Common Causes Of Upper Back Pain
Studies show nearly one in 10 men and one in five women experience upper back pain. While its impossible to defend against every type of upper back stressor, learning about the most common triggers can help you protect your back. Pain in the upper back can be related to lifestyle or caused by injuries, and causes may include:
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When To See A Doctor For Upper Back Pain
While most upper back pain goes away within a few weeks, with or without at-home treatment, this type of pain could require medical attention. So when should you worry about upper back pain, and how do you know if upper back pain is serious? Some serious symptoms, as outlined below, warrant a visit to the doctor.
Contact your doctor for an appointment if discomfort still persists after a week of at-home treatment or if:
- Discomfort has become severe, especially when lying down
- You notice weakness or numbness in one arms or legs
- Pain radiates down one legs
Manage Or Reduce Stress
Stress can trigger muscle tension and painful spasms, including in the back. If long-term stress or a traumatic event seems to have caused back pain, a person can try stress-relief techniques, such as:
- Mindfulness meditation.One study showed that mindfulness-based stress reduction improved back pain. Mindfulness involves being aware of what the body is doing and using meditation techniques to assist with the pain.
- Deep breathing. Taking deep breaths in and out for several minutes can calm the bodys stress response.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. This involves tensing and relaxing muscles in the body, focusing on one muscle group at a time. Lying on their back, a person can start with their feet and gradually move up to the shoulders.
- Guided imagery. This involves focusing on specific mental images to bring about a feeling of relaxation. One study found guided imagery and music helps with work-related chronic stress.
- Yoga. Yoga focuses on particular poses and breathing and can help with relaxation, especially when practiced regularly. One review found yoga to be an effective stress management tool.
Many smartphone apps are available to guide a person through relaxation techniques and meditation.
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When Opioids Are Appropriate
If you have moderate to severe back pain or neck pain, have exhausted all other viable medication options, an opioid may be an effective treatment for you. Before your doctor prescribes an opioid pain reliever, he/she will likely evaluate your current medical condition by performing a physical and neurological examination. The assessment focuses on your painincluding the location, intensity, frequency, and treatments youve tried.
Back Pain Relievers For Different Types Of Pain
If your go-to over-the-counter pain medicine hasn’t been touching your back pain lately, you’re not alone. According to a 2018 review in American Family Physician, chronic low back pain affects up to 23% of adults worldwide.1 Back pain is a common problem for adults of all ages, and finding the right treatment can take time and a little trial and error.
Back pain may feel dull and achy or sharp and pinching. It could be caused by an injury, age, inflammation, or other health condition. The most common causes of low back pain are repetitive trauma and overuse injuries.1
Back pain relievers are usually designed to target only one type of back pain. For example, ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is effective at treating inflammatory back pain. It’s often the first-line treatment recommended when you develop back pain. Unfortunately, most cases of back pain are not caused by inflammation.2
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When To Speak With A Doctor
It is best to speak with a doctor if back pain worsens. Keeping a diary to monitor the severity of the pain and how it impacts a personâs daily activities may assist the diagnosis.
People should also seek medical advice if they experience any of the below symptoms, which may indicate an alternative or additional underlying problem:
- a persistent curve in the lower back, even when bending forward
- tingling or numbness in the back, arms, or legs
- muscle spasms
Prevention Of Upper Back Pain
The following tips may help to prevent you from developing upper back pain.
- Lift objects safely and correctly by bending at your knees and not from the waist.
- Make sure your back is properly supported when sitting.
- If you wake up with back pain, a more supportive mattress that adjusts to your back and supports its various curves and hollows may help.
- Take regular breaks from sitting for long periods of time and from doing repetitive tasks.
- Practise good posture see our section on causes of back pain.
- Exercise regularly see our FAQ on some specific exercises for upper back strength.
- Learn and practise good technique for any sports youre doing.
- Stop doing any activity that you know is causing your back pain.
- Stop smoking it can speed up the degeneration of the discs between your vertebrae that act as shock absorbers.
- If you are overweight, losing weight may help to reduce the risk of back pain.
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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.
Can Stress Cause Upper Back Pain
In short, yesemotional stress can cause upper back pain. In times of stress, the body responds with fight or flight behavior the nervous system kicks into overdrive in order to protect vital organs. Feeling stress in the body can result in reduced blood flow to soft tissues , meaning less oxygen can pass through the area. As a result, those under stress are likely to experience muscle spasms, tension and, pain in the back.
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Preventing Pain And Injury
Posture. Using correct posture and keeping your spine in alignment are the most important things you can do for your neck and back . The lower back bears most of your weight, so proper alignment of this section can prevent injury to your vertebrae, discs, and other portions of the spine. If you have back or neck pain, you may need to make adjustments to your daily standing, sitting, and sleeping habits and learn proper ways to lift and bend. Your workspace may need to be rearranged to keep your spine from slouching. Because extra pounds can make back pain worse, you should maintain a weight that is appropriate for your height and body frame.
Exercise. Regular exercise is important to prevent back pain and injury. A program of strengthening, stretching and aerobic exercises will improve your overall fitness level. Research has shown that people who are physically fit are more resistant to back injuries and pain, and recover quicker when they do have injuries, than those who are less physically fit .
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Epat / Shockwave Therapy
EPAT Therapy is a non-invasive method for increasing the speed of healing and injury-related downtime.
EPAT Treatment is a painless, regenerative therapy that helps promote faster healing by delivering impulse pressure waves deep within damaged soft tissue. It works by stimulating blood flow to irritated tendons and ligaments and lessens inflammation for improved healing.
This form of treatment is non-surgical so there is no anesthesia necessary, no scarring, and no risk of infection.
In some cases, athletes or workers can actually undergo treatment sessions while still maintaining high levels of athletic activity or continuing to work.
How Is Upper Back Pain Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your medical history, activity level and symptoms. They will also ask you questions about your pain. These questions may include:
- When did the pain start?
- Where does the pain hurt the most?
- Does anything you do make the pain feel better?
- Does anything you do make the pain feel worse?
Your healthcare provider may do a physical exam. They may have you lift or bend your legs to see how moving affects your pain. Your healthcare provider may test your muscle strength and reflexes.
Depending on what your healthcare provider finds, they may order additional tests. These tests may include:
- Spine X-ray: Uses radiation to produce images of the bones in your spine.
- Magnetic resonance imaging scan: Uses a magnet and radio waves to create pictures of your bones, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues in your spine.
- Computed tomography scan: Uses X-rays and a computer to create 3D images of the bones and soft tissues in the spine.
- Electromyography : Tests the nerves and muscles in your spine and checks for nerve damage , which can cause tingling or numbness in your legs.
- Blood test: Can detect genetic markers for some conditions that cause back pain.
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Managing Different Types Of Back Pain
Four out of five people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. There are countless triggers of back pain, from repetitively lifting children, to spending prolonged periods of time hunched over a laptop. When back pain occurs, the pain can be debilitating and cause real disruption to daily life.
Upper back pain versus lower back pain
Back pain may originate from either the upper back or the lower back. Upper back pain can be felt in the top half of the back and in the shoulders. You may also experience neck pain. It can be caused by:
- Damage to ligaments and tendons that have been overstretched. For example, during a vehicle accident, or during a workout
- Stress and emotional tension that make muscles tighten and contract
- Poor posture that places additional stress on the spine and overloads the surrounding muscles and ligaments.
To tackle pain in the upper back, consider taking over-the-counter pain relief, such as paracetamol. You could also take an oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or apply a topical NSAID.
In contrast, lower back pain is felt at the base of the back. Lower back pain may occur from:
- Lifting something too heavy
- Overstretching the lower back muscles
- Direct injury or trauma.
These can cause a sprain or strain in the lower back, leading to pain and sometimes muscle spasms.
Acute versus chronic back pain
Regardless of the location, back problems can be classified further as either acute or chronic, based on how long the pain lasts.