Understanding and Treating Upper Back Pain

Upper Back Pain

Each year, countless people around the world – and of all ages – suffer from acute or chronic upper back pain. While not as common as lower back pain, it's nevertheless one of the most widespread ailments, and unfortunately, one of the most painful and debilitating, too.

Plus, upper back pain is a frequently-cited reason for workplace sick leave and absenteeism, which collectively costs individuals and organizations billions of dollars each year. Upper back pain-related treatments also place an immense drain on our already-strained health care system, and use up scarce resources that could be spent on education, the environment, job creation and economic development, and other worthy pursuits.

What Causes Upper Back Pain?

Upper back pain is the result of an injury to the muscles, ligaments, and/or discs in the upper back area that support the spine. What's more, upper back pain can also cause pain in the ribs, and adversely affect breathing.

There are many possible reasons for this kind of injury (which are also called "contributing factors"). Some of the most common include:

  • Trauma or sudden injury, such as a car accident
  • Poor posture (including poor sleeping posture)
  • Wearing heavy coats in the winter
  • Excess computer usage (which is even worse when the workspace is not ergonomic)
  • Lack of strength (also called "de-conditioning")
  • Overuse injuries (which can be brought about by playing sports, work, or any other repetitive use)
  • Excess pressure on spinal nerves (often as a result of pre-existing conditions, such as a herniated disc)
  • Breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the spine's small facet joints (also known as Osteoarthritis)
  • Damage to the connective tissue of a muscle/group of muscles

Treating Upper Back Pain

While upper back pain is certainly a serious and often agonizing condition, the good news is that there are a variety of proven treatment methods that have helped countless people heal their injuries, and enjoy lasting freedom from pain. Some of the more common treatments include:

  • Exercise
    A carefully planned and structured exercise program can help you strength muscles that support your spine, which in turn will reduce upper back pain. As a bonus, you'll also enjoy better balance and better posture, too! Just remember that you should never perform any exercises on your own, regardless of how simple or straightforward they seem. Without the right technique, you may add to your injury -- and increase your pain.
  • Dynamic Traction
    Many people suffering from upper back pain have benefited from Dynamic Traction therapy, which is when relaxing and gentle traction is applied to the injured area. The result is both pain reduction and rapid healing, since the injured area is flooded with nourishing blood and nutrients.
  • Chiropractic Treatment
    An experienced and certified Chiropractor can also help by performing hands-on spinal manipulation, which will help align your body's musculoskeletal structure. What's more, chiropractic treatment can also help restore flexibility and mobility, which can greatly improve your quality of life – while, of course, reducing or eliminating your pain.
  • Laser Treatment
    Laser treatment for upper back pain involves stimulating injured areas via specific wavelengths of light, which in turn promotes circulation, reduces swelling, and triggers the body's natural healing capacity. Laser treatment is completely painless, safe, and has helped many people around the world experience rapid and dramatic pain relief.
  • Acupuncture
    Many people experience upper back pain reduction through acupuncture, which inserts very thin needles in specific parts of the body (called "meridians") in order to stimulate stagnated Qi ("life force"), and help improve blood circulation to injured areas. The acupuncture process is painless, safe, free of side effects, and many people report positive results after the very first treatment!
  • Active Release Techniques (ART)
    ART involves gently applying pressure to injured areas, in order to break down adhesions (these are fibrous bands that form between tissues and organs after an injury). It also helps improve lymphatic flow, which can be negatively impacted by injured muscles, in order to promote healing and reduce pain.

Rehab for Upper Back Pain

The treatment (or treatments) that are best for you will be part of your personalized Rehab Program, which should only be created by a certified Chronic and Acute Pain Specialist so that it includes these 4 key components:

  1. A cardiovascular component to help build towards improved fitness.
  2. A general stretching component to regain flexibility and restore balance to muscles in the body, and especially the injured area.
  3. A muscle balancing component, to ensure that muscles are firing effectively and in sequence.
  4. A strength component, that must be followed regularly 3-4 times/week for 6-8 weeks, and then 2-3 times/week thereafter.

Tips for Dealing with Upper Back Pain

While it's essential that you visit an experienced and certified Acute and Chronic Pain Specialist to assess your upper back pain problem, generally speaking there are some tips you can follow to help alleviate your pain and at the same time, prevent further injury. These tips include:

  • Give your aching and likely over-worked back a little rest and relaxation ("R&R"). Also remember that if you're re-starting any activity after your break, that you should do so gently and slowly.
  • Use both heat and ice. Heat can help reduce stiffness, while ice can help lower swelling. Together, they can both help alleviate pain and make it more manageable until or while you're getting treatment. Whenever using both heat and ice, always end with the ice.
  • Improve your posture in everything that you do: working, sitting, walking and sleeping. Also keep in mind that heavy winter coats can take a toll on your shoulder muscles and, after a while, lead to upper back pain.
  • Reduce your stress levels by improving your diet, deep breathing, and performing gentle exercises that help calm your body, mind and spirit. This can dramatically reduce the amount of tension stored in your upper back.

Getting the Upper Back Pain Advice and Treatment You Need

At the Advanced Therapeutic Centre, we've helped numerous patients put an end to their upper back pain once and for all! After all, we're more than just doctors. We're experienced and caring Chronic and Acute Pain Management Specialists. Our mission is to improve your quality of life, and enable you to achieve your full potential.

To learn more or book your 30 minute consultation, call us at (416) 361-9900 during our Centre hours (Monday, Wednesday & Friday from 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM).

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