Do you find yourself massaging your upper back to “treat” that niggling pain?
Or are you rolling your shoulders back and forth to get rid of that stiffness after a while on the computer, in the car or train?
While the pain itself is a symptom, understanding the underlying cause of your upper back pain is critical to treating it.
What is Causing Your Upper Back Pain?
When you think of pain in upper back the most common cause of your complaint is one of two problems:
Whenever we think of the bones in our back, we picture a long chain of joints which form our spine.
However, these bones are supported by a complex system of muscles which protect, support and move the spinal column to perform all the bending and twisting motions that your back is required to do all day long.
Muscular pain in your upper back occurs when your muscles become overworked and overactive leading to strain. The strain you experience comes about due to repetitive movement, injury and the really big one:
Picture what you imagine to be perfect posture to be.
Now compare it to yours.
With bad posture some muscles become overactive while other muscles become underactive. Over time these overactive muscles tighten, leading to the pain and discomfort you may feel.
Underactive muscles on the other hand became weak and limit your ability to hold your body up with good posture like they should…which means your overactive muscles have to do more work to support your body.
It’s no wonder you start to feel tightness and pain across your upper back, shoulders and neck.
Good posture is critical to the overall condition of the upper back.
Improve your Poor Posture, Improve Your Pain
Considering poor posture is one of the most common upper back pain causes, when you spend long periods of time hunched over your laptop or looking down at your mobile, your upper back definitely isn’t going to thank you for it. The neck pain symptoms you experience aren’t all that nice either.
For a lot of us, a typical day starts off with a commute spent scrolling through our Facebook feed. The fact that we do that is bad enough!
Add that to sitting behind a computer without many breaks throughout the day and top off the stress to your spine by half sitting, half lying in front of the TV when you get home before passing out on the couch.
Considering we do that day after day over multiple years does it come as any real surprise when neck or upper back pain suddenly hits you (I’m sure they literally would if they had the chance!)
Taking frequent breaks rather than staying in a prolonged position be it sitting, lying down or standing can help reduce tension on your upper back and keep the pain away. That cat video you’re watching will be waiting for you when you come back.
Joint Dysfunction – A common culprit in upper back pain
Your spinal column is extremely complex and functions via movements between the joints and muscles. The vertebrae which make up your spine work together to allow for movement when we do anything whether that be looking up, turning over your shoulder or bending forward.
The tricky part with the upper back is the upper ribs also connect to vertebra in your spine.
Problems in your upper back come along when the joints either in the spine or in the ribs stop working and moving like they should.
Your body only does what you teach it to do over extended periods of time. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “use it or lose it”. This makes prolonged sitting one of the most common causes of joint dysfunction, leading to upper back pain.
When sitting for extended periods some joints are used a lot less than others. This causes a reduction of movement in that joint, also known as hypomobility (remember, use it or lose it!)
So…If one joint is moving less than it should, another joint in the upper back has to move more to make up for that lack of movement. This causes excessive movement in that joint or hypermobility.
This dysfunction and lack of cohesiveness in the joints leads to imbalances in the biomechanics of your spine causing upper back pain.
Joints and Muscles Aren’t The Be All and End All
9/10 times pain in your upper back will be caused by muscular tension or joint dysfunction.
There are other other specific conditions which can be a cause of upper back pain.
Degenerative Disc Disease and Arthritis
As you age, the bones in your spine which were once strong and mobile begin to stiffen and produce the wear and tear that you’d expect out of something that has been working so hard for so long.
Degenerative disc disease and arthritis refer to bony changes in both the vertebra and the disc which sits between the vertebra and can lead to pain.
The more significant the degenerative changes, the higher the chance of pain coming on as a result. Degenerative changes, depending on severity, can also cause compression on the nerves in your spine leading to pain or pins and needles in tingling in different parts of your body depending on which nerve is being compressed.
Upper Back Disc Herniation
An upper back bulging disc occurs when any of the discs in your spine which sit between two vertebra rupture. The jelly-like material inside the discs presses on your nerves that branch out of the spinal cord causing pain.
Depending on the nerve which is being compressed, this may result in pain and numbness in the back or pain in the chest and abdomen. Since your upper back is very stable and exhibits very little motion, disc herniation in the upper back is rare compared to bulging discs in the neck or bulging discs in the lower back.
How Are These Upper Back Pain Causes Affecting You?
You may suffer from the same cause of upper back pain as someone else but present with completely different symptoms. Getting an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms can help you identify the root cause of your problem.
A qualified health professional can accurately diagnose the cause and then suggest suitable treatment to give you effective relief.
Upper back pain can really prevent you from living an active life and stop you from participating in day to day activities which you would normally expect to be able to do.