Upper back pain is not as common as lower back pain, but for many men and women, it is no less painful. This condition can manifest as acute or chronic discomfort and significantly affects the lives of those who experience it. Upper back pain occurs throughout the upper back area, including the shoulder blades and the region where the rib cage connects to the upper, mid-back and chest sections of the spine.
When the upper back becomes painful, it is most likely due to an injury that has resulted in muscular irritation or joint dysfunction. Some of the more common causes of upper back pain are:
- Postural Trigger points. Living a sedentary lifestyle or routinely sitting for long periods with poor posture can cause structural changes in the back and neck. The muscles can become deconditioned and weak, and thus not hold the spine in neutral alignment as easily as before. As the head and shoulders hunch forward, more tension is placed on the tendons and muscles of the upper back resulting in trigger points. If a person leans to one side more often, such as while driving or working at a computer, that could also cause an imbalance in the upper back that leads to pain.
- Improper lifting technique. Lifting a heavy object without keeping the spine aligned can put undue stress on the upper back. In particular, lifting or holding a heavy object above the head, especially more toward the left or right as opposed to centred, can leave the shoulder and upper back susceptible to injury. Lifting an object that is too heavy can also cause upper back pain.
- Overuse. Putting the upper back through more work than usual, such as by spending a day helping a friend move into a new apartment or painting a ceiling (working above the head), could cause muscle strains, ligament sprains, and inflammation in the upper back.
- Accident or collision. Trauma from a vehicular accident (car or bike crash), a fall from height (down steps or from a ladder), or sports collision (football, hockey, etc.) can cause upper back pain by injuring spinal bones, discs, muscles, ligaments, nerves, and/or other soft tissues.
Sometimes there can be a combination of causes, such as from both overuse and improper lifting technique.
- Strained Muscles and trigger points
The shoulder girdle is attached by large muscles to the scapula, or shoulder blade, and the back of the thoracic rib cage. These large upper back muscles are susceptible to irritation. When you over-stretch muscle tissue trigger points often occur. Tearing of the muscle and the disruption of small blood vessels can lead to tenderness, inflammation and swelling. Poor posture, a lack of exercise, a traumatic incident or improperly lifting heavy objects may induce harm.
- Injured Discs
Injured discs in the spinal column press against surrounding tissues and nerves, causing pain and other complications.
- Fractured Vertebrae
Damaged vertebrae in the cervical (neck) or thoracic (upper) regions of the spine may hinder motion and incite intense discomfort.
Some serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, can cause upper back pain.
Hormonal changes and vitamin deficiencies can cause osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from tissue loss. Weak bones are more likely to fracture or become injured, straining corresponding tissues and ligaments.
Over time, the spine becomes vulnerable to deterioration and the body becomes less able to adapt quickly. Sometimes upper back pain results as tissues, ligaments and bones deal with damage and fluctuating weight distribution.
- Spinal Conditions, such as scoliosis
Certain complications, such as scoliosis, disrupt the structural integrity of the spine and cause pain.
- Health issues, like acid reflux or ulcers
Some health challenges can aggravate the vegas nerve, which extends into the upper back. Additionally, patients may sleep in specific positions to get relief from heartburn and other maladies, thus causing back pain.
- Joint Dysfunction
Ribs are connected to vertebrae in the thoracic spine by two joints, which fasten upon each side of the spine. When these joints do not function properly or become injured, discomfort results.
However, generally muscular trigger points are often the main cause of this pain. Golfers and people who keep the arm up a lot can be the typical victims of this pain pattern. People with shoulders rounded also can suffer due to overstretching of the muscle of the upper back.
Painalog’s 3D analytics helps identify the 4 muscles as trigger points that could cause this pain and shows you videos on how to locate, self-massage, and stretch them.
Top four muscles that cause upper back pain
If you are experiencing this kind of body pain you can see the solutions below: