Upper Back Pain Causes

'When Comfort Does More Harm Than Good'

In This Article –

  • Common Upper Back Pain Causes
  • The Problem With Modern Exercise For Upper Back Pain
  • 7 Potential Reasons You Feel Upper Back Pain

Upper Back Pain Causes – ‘The Modern Day Back Problem’ Blamed On Televisions, Sofas and Work Stations, But What Can We Really Do To Avoid Upper Back Pain Altogether?

Upper Back Pain Causes – ‘The Modern Day Back Problem’ Blamed On Televisions, Sofas and Work Stations, But What Can We Really Do To Avoid Upper Back Pain Altogether?

Upper Back Pain – The ‘Modern-Day Phenomenon’

Upper back pain is very much the 21st century development in back injuries. Whilst lower back pain from heavy lifting has been around since humans had skeletons, the frequency of upper back pain has really increased since companies developed offices and we started looking for ‘comfort’ in our increasingly automated, digital lives.

Causes of upper back pain most commonly result from our lifestyles – and as our lifestyles have become more sedentary, it is no coincidence that upper back pain has spiralled.

Unkind Comfort – Common Upper Back Pain Causes

So what is it about our ‘modern’ lifestyles that has so fuelled the rise in upper back pain? To put it simply (and using some degree of generalisation) – the amount of sitting down.

Most people now travel everywhere in a car, sit in an office at a desk and relax at home in front of the tv, or the computer.

Obviously, this can cause problems like obesity, heart disease, diabetes etc – all of which are given plenty of coverage elsewhere, but the other problem of these non-moving ‘activities’ is that they all encourage very poor posture.

Sitting behind a computer, for example, is something many of us now do all day long – without a thought for the ‘slump’ forward that many of us have developed.

A Woman Feels Her Upper Back In Pain While Working At Her Office Desk

In the short-term, we will never notice any change, our spine is strong and more than capable of taking the strain. The upper part of our spine after all, is principally responsible for the stability of our entire body and anchors the rib cage.

Add on years of slumping in a chair however, bending forward over a keyboard and generally ‘hunching’ our spine at all sorts of angles and then one day you feel severe pain. This could be a sharp, severe pain or a more aching sensation. Very often this is muscular and often results in shoulder or neck pain as well.

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Prevalence Of Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain is not as common as lower back pain, partly because the upper spine is more stable than the lower back – it’s main job being to work with your ribcage in staying firm and protecting your internal organs. It does far less twisting/ turning during normal movements and as a result, injuries such as a slipped disc are much less likely to occur.

Unless you are suffering upper back pain as a direct result of a physical blow (such as a car crash), then the chances are the exact causes of your upper back pain will be down to a number of different lifestyle factors.

Simply reducing your time in front of the computer for example, may not alone be enough to correct years of misuse. Regular exercise certainly helps as does assuming correct posture and firmer chairs. But only by making fundamental changes to your lifestyle can truly impact on your upper back pain.

The ‘Unfairness’ of Modern Exercise

Not unlike the rest of society, exercise has evolved to try and achieve the best results in the shortest time. As a result of this, many exercise machines and indeed physical trainers spend considerable effort concentrating on solitary muscles.

The theory is that by isolating your biceps for example, when doing bicep curls you will achieve a better result (and bigger muscles). The downside is that it often ignores the unseen muscles and tendons that knit the body together.

Pads Like This Are Designed To Isolate Your Biceps (Not Use Your Shoulders/ Neck/ Upper Back) – But Are They Really A Good Idea?

In a real-life situation, if you are lifting something heavy, as well as using your shoulder/ bicep muscles, you would also use you back and potentially even your neck under the strain of heavy lifting.

Many lifting machines to take out the role of shoulder/ neck and core in lifting and isolate just the biceps. As a result of these modern training machines, it is now quite possible to consider yourself very fit – but still suffer with upper back pain.

This is simply because you haven’t developed your core or the frame on which you hang your muscles.

Perhaps the best way forward is to identify your upper back pain causes and then seek to simply avoid doing it again. Not always possible in the case of an injury or an infection, but by far the biggest majority of upper back pain complaints will be through poor posture.

Upper Back Pain Causes – 7 Potential Reasons You Might Feel The Pain….

1.Poor Posture. As covered above, this can be for a variety of reasons – from your job requirements, to modern life in general and even because you carry a heavy backpack. There is no easy or obvious solution, other than possibly Yoga to increase your flexibility, a better understanding of how your posture is poor and maybe better equipment to enable a better posture (such as a new chair with a stiffer back etc)

2.Heavy Lifting. Again, poor form results in back pain. Lifting should always be from the knees with the back kept straight and pointing upwards towards the sky.

3.Impact Injury. Impossible to predict or protect against, but injuries such as whiplash (the most common form of impact injury typically arising from road traffic accidents etc) affect the soft tissue around the neck/ upper back. Like so many upper back pain causes, this type of pain never truly heals once it has been caused.

4.Osteoporosis. A weakening of the bones that prevents them from supporting your weight as well as normal. This then results in far more strains/ sprains as the surrounding tissue struggles to take up the strain. We have another section dedicated especially to Osteoporosis.

5.Infection. An abscess caused by infection can lead to a compression of nerves around the spine and ultimately disabling back pain.

6.Scoliosis. Scoliosis is defined by an unusual curving of the spine. It could curve in to a ‘C’ shape or an ‘S’ shape, when viewed head-on or from behind. This again compresses nerves and supporting tissue causing considerable pain. Depending on how high the curving takes place, it will either cause lower/ upper back pain or both.

7.Kyphosis (problematic). The spine should have a natural slight curve when viewed from straight on. If this curve starts to bend outwards more than normal, then for the same reasons as Scoliosis, it will can cause upper back pain.

The Final Word –

Upper back pain may be something that has risen dramatically in number due to modern living styles, but it is no less painful if you suffer with it. The advantage if you you do suffer because of incorrect posture is that it is correctable. 

Unfortunately, how correctable does depend on the exact cause and also the length of time it has been going on. Even upper back strain can lead to permanent issues if you’ve been masking it for years with painkillers.

Naturally, lifestyle choices such as weight and exercise regime will have an impact, but there is a big difference in the effectiveness of various training techniques. Be careful not to isolate your muscles too much – or you may find severe back pain is only just around the corner.

The key really is to get a good diagnosis as discussed here (upper back pain diagnosis) and understand all of your treatment options. Again we cover treatment options here (what is the best treatment for upper back pain). 

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