Upper Back Pain
Upper back pain is any type of pain that stretches from the middle of your back, up through and across your shoulders. While it is not a very common spinal pain, it can still cause quite a bit of pain and discomfort.
Technically, the upper back is classified as the thoracic spine, which unlike the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back), does not allow for any movement. Because of this, discs and vertebrae in that region are not generally susceptible to the normal wear and tear that affects other areas of the spine. This means that upper back pain is usually caused by something other than a degenerative spine condition.
Causes of Upper back Pain
The stiffness, muscle spasms, headaches, and other general pain symptoms that come with upper back pain can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of the most common causes can include:
Poor posture or looking downward for long periods of time (cell phone or tablet use)
Recent or semi-recent (symptoms can sometimes be delayed) accident trauma
Sports or overuse injuries
Neck or shoulder strain
More rare or uncommon causes of upper back pain may include:
Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis (or spinal arthritis)
Spinal disorders like scoliosis or kyphosis
Spinal fracture, from trauma or osteoporosis
Certain lifestyle habits can contribute to upper back pain as well. These can include:
Poor ergonomic set-ups at work
Lack of exercise
Carrying bags that are too heavy
Weak abdominal muscles
Each case is different. For some, upper back pain can be contributed to something as simple as an old mattress, the wrong type of shoes or carrying a lighter purse.
Treatments for Upper back Pain
There are many treatments for upper back pain. However, what works for someone else may not work for you. The severity of your symptoms and how much they prevent you from your daily activities will influence the type of treatment that brings you relief. Keep trying different methods or work with your back specialist until you find what is best for you.
In most cases, upper back pain can be treated with at-home treatments or lifestyle modifications. Some of these may include:
Daily exercise (stretches)
Practicing proper posture (You may also be interested in reading: Four Ways to Keep Your Spine Healthy)
Eating anti-inflammatory foods
Over-the-counter pain medicines
Heat or ice
For more severe cases, a back pain specialist may recommend prescription medication, which may include a muscle relaxant or steroid shot.
When to See a Spine Doctor
Although uncomfortable and inconvenient, upper back pain is typically not a cause for worry. Most cases of upper back pain resolve in a few weeks without further treatment. Unless you have signs of a severe illness, injury, or heart attack, allow your back pain to work itself out before you contact your doctor; however, if you don’t feel better in 1 to 2 weeks, call your doctor.
Other circumstances that may require a call to your doctor include numbness or weakness in the legs, difficulty walking, or any type of back pain with fever. If back pain occurs with chest pains or other symptoms of a heart attack, such as sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or pressure in the chest, contact emergency services immediately.