Upper Back Pain Diagnosis

The First Step On The Road To Treatment...

In This Article –

  • Understanding The Cause When It’s An Injury
  • Understanding The Cause When It’s Poor Posture
  • The Difficulties of Making Certain
  • A Doctor’s Diagnosis

The first step on your long road to recovery is often getting a successful upper back pain diagnosis.

‘Successful’ may seem a strange word to use here – but knowing what caused your upper back pain and ruling out what it isn’t (other even more dangerous options), really is the start to treating it properly.

Understanding The Cause When It’s An Injury

Upper back pain diagnosis depends very much on the cause of the back pain in the first instance. When this is caused by an impact or injury such as a shunt behind by another vehicle, injuries such as Whiplash can be diagnosed.

Whiplash itself is really an injury to the neck, but this frequently presents with pain of the upper back as well. However, it is still very difficult to be 100% sure about whiplash, because it is mostly damage to soft tissue around the spine. Doctor’s can look for physical evidence such as bruising of the skin, but even this is not always present.

Of the scans available, neither CT, MRI or X-Ray can decisively diagnose whiplash. This is one of the reasons it can be such a controversial injury, argued about in courts and compensation claims across the planet – diagnosis relies on the recipient complaining and convincing their doctor the pain is real.

In theory, rest and hot/cold muscle relaxants can cure the problem – but there is no guarantee.

Some people live with the pain from a whiplash injury for the rest of their lives. Others never really had an injury in the first place. Only you can help the doctor to diagnose it fairly.

Woman doctor is performing an upper back pain diagnosis on a male patient in hospital office.Understanding The Cause When It’s Poor Posture

The most common form of upper back pain however is from that of poor posture – slouched back in chairs watching TV or leaning forward over a desk at work.

Upper back pain diagnosis here is easy – it’s obvious if your pain comes from the top half of your spine.

However, if it is caused mostly by leaning forward/ slouching back, then again it is likely to be soft tissue injury caused by muscle tension and treatable with rest and heated applications rather than surgery.

Once again, a major complication is that what one person would consider as a crippling back injury, another might work through and think of as a mere hindrance – the severity of the upper back pain really lies in the eye of the beholder. Different pain thresholds give a different diagnosis.

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The Difficulty of Multiple Pain Points

Upper back pain diagnosis is also considerably more difficult than many pain sources because there are so many potential pain points. Neck pain can transfer to upper back pain, pain from the joint of the rib cage to the spine can transfer to upper back pain and even chest pain can surface first as upper back pain.

Those are just examples of pain transference because the upper spine is so close to so many other key parts of the body.

It is worth emphasizing at this point that this website can not provide you with an upper back pain diagnosis. And that’s fine because this site is most definitely not about dispensing a clinical diagnosis.

The rise in the internet has brought about a million and one ‘self-diagnosis’ sites and, while their intentions may (or may not) be genuine, most doctors will tell you how dangerous it is to rely on a supposed clinical judgement. Especially one in which you haven’t even had a face to face examination.

In order to rule out other possible problems, a face to face diagnosis is essential and we would never advocate anything else in the first instance.

The increasing strain on doctors time has inevitably led frustrated sufferers to these ‘super-fast’ diagnosis routes or even for people like yourself yourself to try and diagnose themselves.

When this is around having a cold or a mild fever, that is fine. If you deteriorate, then you can always call a local doctor for stronger remedies. When you are dealing with excruciating internal pain however that could be anything from a slipped spinal disk to kidney disease to internal bleeding, then only a doctor with the help of scanning equipment can truly establish what is wrong.

And the outcome of leaving it, could be a life or death situation.

Our main pages will focus on what causes various pains, but it is our intention that helprelievepain.com will always focus primarily on it’s core mission – to help you relieve that pain and more specifically to help share chronic pain managment tips.

Myself and my colleagues will always try to provide just enough clinical insight (and plenty of research) to spark debate and provide the platform on which discussion can take place. We will always try to keep the technical focus to a minimum and the real explanations as human as possible.

So having established that diagnosis is tricky, how to doctors go about achieving it. Below we list the steps most doctors will take in reaching an upper back pain diagnosis….

A Doctor’s Diagnosis

A Look At Your History

  • When did your pain start (was it immediately after an accident/ after working in the gym/ has it been gradually getting worse)
  • How long have you had the back pain?
  • How bad is your current pain? (intensity/ scale)
  • When is your pain at it’s worst? (evening/ morning/ is it constant)
  • Is your pain anywhere else?
  • Lifestyle (are you active/ over-weight/ do you work in an office)

Physical Examination

  • Clue-Hunting Observation (are you hunched forward/ holding an arm/ unable to turn your head)
  • Pressure Points (the doctor tests the spine and ribs for specific areas of pain)
  • Pain Tests. (Clinicians attempt to replicate your pain by making you perform various light exercises on different sides to see if they can isolate the source of pain more closely)

Diagnostic Tests

We covered X-Rays/ MRI Scans and CT Scans and the differences here under ‘lower back pain’. All of these tests may be used in the same way here. However, there are also two variants using X-ray technology that may be used here –

  • Bone Density Exam. Commonly used as a test for Osteoporosis that causes upper back pain, this test involves using an X-ray to measure bone density. We cover this scan in much more detail in our section on ‘Osteoporosis’ section.
  • Medial Branch Nerve Block. An anaesthetic is injected in to a facet joint to see if this stops/ eases the pain. If the pain stops altogether, then the clinicians knows where your pain is. Again, x-ray technology is used to insure the injection is put in exactly the right place.

The Final Word –

How you developed your back will go a long way to your doctors’ upper back pain diagnosis. Understanding your history and whether your pain was the result of an injury, working with poor posture or may something else is key to setting up the correct treatment.

This is the reason a doctor is key in doing this – because only they can take a full and fair look at all the surrounding factors and work out what has most likely caused your pain.

once you have been diagnosed with upper back pain, then can start looking at solutions for treating it – many of which will start with your own self-management and can be helped further with some of the tips in our treatments guide here ‘What Is The Best Treatment For Upper Back Pain?’

Ultimately, upper back pain is just as debilitating as lower back pain and making lifestyle changes is never an easy thing to do if that is what has caused it. But as with any pain you are battling, knowing and trying your options to key to winning the war.

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