The upper back (comprised of the 12 vertebrae in the middle of the spine) allows you to stand upright and protects the organs in your chest. Upper back injuries and problems are less common than lower back problems are, but they can be just as serious and painful. If you’re one of the unfortunate people who experiences upper back pain, read on to learn more.
Minor Upper Back Pain
Would you describe your upper back pain with an adjective like “annoying” rather than “debilitating?” Can you trace its cause to something obvious: shoveling dirt, playing a demanding tennis match, helping a friend move? In these cases, you’re probably suffering from the most common causes of back pain: muscle strain or overuse.
If you avoid strenuous activity for a couple of days, the pain should subside on its own. But don’t avoid all activity! Not only is bed rest ineffective for treating minor back pain, but studies show it can actually make things worse. The best way to relieve minor back pain is to take it easy, take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed, use an ice pack (for swelling) or a heating pad (for stiffness), and be mindful of practicing good posture.
Upper back pain often corresponds to neck and shoulder pain. If your pain is radiating from the neck and shoulders, massage may also provide upper back pain relief.
Serious Upper Back Pain
Sometimes, upper back pain results from serious causes, like a car accident, or as a side effect of a medical cause such as joint dysfunction, herniated disc or Scheuermann’s Disease, a condition typically affecting teenagers.
Here are some red flags for upper back pain:
- Intense pain affecting your ability to function
- Chronic, ongoing over an extended period
- Accompanied by numbness and tingling in your back or legs
- Accompanied by fever, chest pain, weakness, unintended weight loss or difficulty urinating.
If any of these are the case, schedule an appointment with an upper back pain specialist sooner rather than later. A specialist can conduct CT scans, bone scans, MRIs and ultrasounds to pinpoint possible causes and devise a treatment plan. Procrastinating could lead to serious complications.
If you’ve experienced upper back pain, you know how bad it can be. Do yourself a favor and take steps to prevent it. When lifting heavy objects, squat and keep your back straight. Never bend at the waist to hoist something that might be heavy. Don’t slump or slouch; stand and sit tall.
Not all causes of pain can be prevented. If you experience severe upper back pain that doesn’t go away on its own, consult a specialist. Don’t gamble with your health.