Pain in the upper back is usually the result of poor posture, muscle overuse, or injury. Treatment may include home remedies, such as rest and gentle exercises, or possibly seeing a physical therapist.
The upper back is the area between the base of the neck and the bottom of the ribcage. There are 12 bones that make up the upper back, which doctors call the thoracic spine.
The first bone of the upper back begins at the base of the neck, and the 12th bone ends just below the ribcage. Upper back pain can appear anywhere between these bones.
Most people describe upper back pain as a burning or pulling sensation in one place, which may be the location of injury or strain.
Though it is less common than lower back pain or neck pain, a study posted to Occupational Medicine indicated that 1 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women might suffer from upper back pain.
Doctors call upper back pain thoracic spine pain or TSP. Common causes include the following:
1. Muscle deconditioning and poor posture
People can condition their muscles over time to be stronger or more enduring through exercises and weight training.
The reverse is also true. Humans may decondition their muscles over time by not using them correctly.
In some muscles, including back muscles, deconditioning is as easy as sitting at a desk with incorrect posture for too long. A person may do this while at work.
Slouching in a chair over a desk may cause a loss of strength in the muscles. Over time, the weakening of muscles may lead to pain in the area as they experience strains or irritation.
When a person slouches, pressure from gravity and the body itself pushes on the spine, neck, discs, and ligaments. Over time, this pressure can lead to pain and other complications.
It is possible to condition the muscles to be stronger and more durable in most cases. This process starts with correcting the posture while sitting, and taking regular breaks from the desk to move around and stretch.
Exercises may also improve strength in the back, and using a standing desk can help, too.
Conditioning the muscle requires patience, however, and anyone with chronic upper back pain from weak muscles might benefit from seeing a physical therapist to find an exercise routine for their specific needs.
Specific conditions affecting the spine or muscles may also lead to upper back pain. These include:
Treatment for each condition varies and will have varying degrees of success.
It may not be possible to prevent all causes of upper back pain, but there are some easy steps people can take that may avoid some of the more common causes. These include:
- Take regular breaks from sitting or lying down to stretch and move different muscle groups.
- Take frequent breaks when working at a desk to stretch, so the muscles stay loose and strong.
- Take a few minutes to stretch the muscles or warm up the body before any activities.
- People who lift heavy objects should avoid twisting or lifting with their back.
- Have regular massages to help work out the tension of the muscles.
- Work with a physical therapist to strengthen weak muscles and keep pressure off the joints.
- Avoid wearing heavy backpacks or purses.
- Be conscious of posture at all times, walking upright and sitting correctly, using back supports if necessary.
Most cases of back pain appear because of lifestyle issues, such as weak or overused muscles from repetitive behaviors. In these cases, lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and stretching, may help relieve pain.
In cases of trauma or chronic back pain, people should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Anyone who is uncertain where to begin should ask their doctor about their pain and treatment options. They may recommend specific exercises or refer a person to a physical therapist.