Better Rehabilitation, Faster Recovery

Upper Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is upper back pain?

Your upper back is also called your thoracic back, the part of the back where the ribs attach. Upper back pain is pain between your neck and your low back.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of upper back pain may include:

  • Pain in the upper back
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain when you take a deep breath
  • Pain when your back is touched or when you move
  • Pain when you move your shoulders or bend your neck forward

How does it occur?

The bones in your back are called vertebrae. Back pain is usually caused when ligaments or muscles attaching to the vertebrae are injured. Upper back pain can come from a twisting motion, poor posture, overuse, or an injury such as a fall or car accident.

It is very common for someone to injure their upper back when carrying objects, throwing, bending or twisting. Sitting at a desk for a prolonged time can cause upper back muscles to tighten and become stiff. Upper back pain can come even come from vigorous coughing or sneezing.

Sometimes upper back pain is caused by scoliosis, a curve in the spine that has developed during the adolescent growth period. In scoliosis there is usually an imbalance of the muscles of the upper back.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will take your history, review your symptoms, and examine your back.

How is it treated?

The early stages of back pain with muscle spasms should be treated with ice packs for 20 to 30 minutes every 4 to 6 hours for the first 2 to 3 days. You may use a frozen gel pack, crushed ice, or a bag of frozen peas. After you iced for 2 to 3 days, you may start to use moist heat to help loosen up stiff muscles.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medicine, muscles relaxants, or other medicine.
Massage to the inflamed muscles will help. Your healthcare provider will recommend exercises to help your back.

When can I return to my sport or activity?

The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your sport or activity as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury, which could lead to permanent damage. Everyone recovers from injury at a different rate. Return to your sport or activity will be determined by how soon your back recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury occurred. In general, it is better to take longer period of recovery than to risk further injuries.

It is important that you have fully recovered from your upper back pain before you return to your sport or strenuous activity. You must be able to have the same range of motion that you had before the injury. You must be able to run, lift, jump and twist without pain.

What can I do to prevent upper back pain?

Be sure that you have warmed up and have done proper stretching exercises before your activity. Try not to twist when you are lifting heavy objects. If you are at a desk for a long period of time be sure to take frequent breaks to stretch your back.

Easy Exercises to Relieve Upper Back Pain

Time to Completion: 10 minutes. You can do these exercises right away.

Exercise 1: Pectoralis Stretch - Repeat 3 times
  1. 1

    Stand in a doorway or corner with both arms on the wall slightly above your head.

  2. 2

    Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders. Hold 15 to 30 seconds.

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