Not Just the Lower Back

Back pain is incredibly common, affecting an estimated 80 percent of the population at one point or another during their lifetime. When it comes to diagnosing and treating upper back pain, the first step is finding the exact cause of the discomfort. Unfortunately, this isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like it to be. It seems there is an endless list of conditions, ailments, and injuries that can contribute to upper back pain among both the young and old.

Upper back pain is described as pain or discomfort that manifests in the thoracic spine, which is the area between the base of the neck and bottom of the rib cage. The thoracic spine is comprised of 12 bones and pain can appear at any point between these bones. Today we are going to look at what some of the most common causes of pain in the thoracic spine is, as well as what can be done to treat it.

Causes of Upper Back Pain

Although upper back pain is not as common as low back pain, it is nonetheless problematic. The thoracic spine is the most stable part of the spine, but range of motion is limited in this area because of how these bones connect to the rib cage. Pain of the upper back usually occurs as the result of a soft tissue injury like a muscle strain or sprain or poor posture. Some of the symptoms of upper back pain include:

  • A burning or pulling sensation
  • Tightness
  • Muscle spasm
  • Tenderness
  • Headache

In some cases, patients may experience pain or discomfort when taking a deep breath, coughing, or sneezing, as the thoracic spine is attached to the ribs and these sensations are quite common.

As mentioned earlier in the post, there are many different potential causes of upper back pain. Some of the most common movements, activities, and injuries that we’ve seen result in upper back pain include:

  • Poor posture
  • Improper lifting
  • Traumatic events, such as a car accident, that lead to injuries like whiplash
  • Infection of the spinal cord or spinal nerves
  • Osteoporosis
  • Twisting
  • Excessive bending
  • Overuse or repetitive movements
  • Weak or tired muscles
  • Obesity

Treating Upper Back Pain

Generally speaking, upper back pain will either resolve itself or respond well to a personalized treatment problem. Although it can be painful, uncomfortable, and wreak havoc on your overall quality of life, it is not usually cause for long-term worry. There are numerous treatments out there today designed to relieve pain of the thoracic spine, many of which can be performed at home:

  • Gentle stretching
  • Rest (for a short period of time )
  • Ice to reduce any pain and swelling
  • Heat (after the first 72 hours of discomfort)
  • Massage
  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Injections
  • Lifestyle changes (such as good posture, staying active, and quitting smoking)

Back pain results in more than 264 million missed work days in the United States. In most cases, back pain stems from a mechanical problem or injury, not a serious condition that is cause for worry. If you are experiencing upper back pain, we encourage you to contact OSA so we can help you find relief. We believe in taking the time to work closely with our patients to ensure they not only understand the root cause of their pain, but what can be done to treat it.

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