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Upper Back Pain (Thoracic Spine)

Upper Back Pain is not commonly associated with an actual spinal disorder, however you may experience upper back pain and discomfort when a spinal disorder does occur. Often this is a result of joint or muscle deficiency or injury. One such rare injury that could cause this sort of pain is an injury to a disc.

Unlike the neck or lower back, the thoracic spine is generally strong and quite stable. This enables you to stand upright and protects the vital internal organs in the chest.

What is upper back pain?

People often associate upper back pain to the term "stiff neck". It is a type of back pain which occurs from the upper portion of the spine, making the neck and shoulders feel stiff or uncomfortable. An individual with complaints of upper back pain may experience difficulty in movements because there is disruption of the joints and muscles of the neck and shoulders. There are also instances, when headaches occur during the persistence of upper back pain or stiff neck.

Symptoms of upper back pain

Individuals with upper back pain may have similar symptoms as to those with lower back pain problems. In most cases, upper back pains don’t pose greater threat to the affected person, since the pain or discomfort may subside eventually.

Below are the usual complaints:

  • Aching pain felt around the neck, feeling stiff.
  • Recurring headaches.
  • Pain spreading around the shoulder blades
  • Tense muscles or joints.
  • Shooting pain occurs at night while in a lying position.

Serious symptoms may occur on rare cases and be linked with another heath problem. When these following complaints happen, immediate medical care is needed:

  • Weakening of the arms or legs.
  • Numbing effect in the arms or legs.
  • Bowel movement disorder (incontinence).

What causes the upper back pain problem?

There are different reasons why upper back pain occurs and here are some of the common causes:

  • Incorrect posture while sitting or doing any work activity like spending long hours in front of the computer.
  • Joint disruption (inflammation) or muscular injury.
  • Lifestyle preference such as living a sedentary lifestyle where the person doesn’t have any interest to do some activity and likes to sit most of the time at home. People who aren’t engaged in any exercise regimen.
  • Lifting of heavy objects alone and without any support or lifting device.
  • Exposure to higher levels of stress in work or environment.

Risk factors

  • Obese individuals
  • Occupation related where one's work may require long periods of sitting such as office work, heavy lifting and other physical movements that may strain the upper back and shoulder area.

Other medical conditions that may result to upper back pain are:

  • Underlying problem with the spinal column
  • Slipped disc
  • Trapped nerve
  • Rheumatism
  • Arthritis (affecting the joints of the spine in the neck and chest)

What are the recommended treatments or drugs for upper back pain?

If the upper back pain is the result of a muscular strain, here are some home care remedies that can be done by the affected person. Cold compress application is performed on the affected area, either with the use of cold ice pack or any packet of frozen vegetables like frozen peas.

Over-the-counter pain relief medications may be used such pain relieving gel with an active ingredient of painkiller like ibuprofen is applied. Others use herbal type of gels to ease any pain or discomfort such as Arnica gel.

If pain becomes severe and recurs, the person with upper back pain should consult any of these licensed medical professionals:

  • Physiotherapist
  • Osteopath
  • Chiropractor

Other possible treatments of the upper back pain may include the following:

  • Joint manipulation and manual movement is done under the guidance of a certified medical professional like a physiotherapist.
  • Set of exercises are given to the patient to be performed at home on a daily basis to lessen the stiffness and encourage movement around the affected area, the upper back.
  • Prescription of pain relievers may be prescribed by the attending doctor to lessen the patient’s pain or discomfort while undergoing any treatment therapy program.

Common Upper Back Conditions

  • Muscular irritation – myofascial pain
  • Joint dysfunction