A lot of people complain about upper back muscle pain. The fact is that the nature of our lives contributes greatly to this type of pain. Generally it is not a serious complaint, as it is quite hard to do serious damage to the muscles of your upper back, they are pretty stable and strong.
The most common type of upper back muscle pain that you will experience is tightness in the area. Think about the number one cause of biomechanical dysfunction which almost everyone is guilty of…
- Bad posture
Most people either sit at a desk all day, with their shoulders rounded out and hunched over the desk, or they simply do not stand tall with their shoulders pulled back. Both of these positions mean that the upper back muscles are placed under a lot of stress. They are always in a stretched position, and simply get tight. The trapezius and the rhomboids are large muscles in that upper back region that can get quite tight, and cause a lot of more intrinsic muscles to react around it. Posture is not the only cause of tight muscles in that area, however it i by far the main culprit.
Treatment Of Upper Back Muscle Pain
The fact is that this area is quite hard to stretch, and given that they are big strong muscles, you will almost always have a lot of trouble getting the stretch on the area that you need. Massage is a great way to loosen the muscles and reduce back spasms, and there are a lot of self massage options available. For those that haven’t checked it out, see my tennis ball therapy post for more info. Here are two common areas that you can address, these pics and explanations are taken from the post mentioned.
Erectors: Place two tennis balls in a sock (it’s OK guys, they are very cheap…) and place it on the ground behind you. Lay down slowly and extend over the two balls. Start around where I have in this picture. You will find they fit perfectly onto your erectors and the groove between the two balls leave enough room for your spine. Once you have extended over an area, sit up, shift forward slightly, and come down again over the next vertebrae. Do this right up your back. As I mentioned before this isn’t really trigger point work, but since it’s a tennis ball post I had to include it. So many people have bad posture, this will help to straighten you out.
Trapezius: There are two ways you can approach this. Firstly, you can put the ball on the ground, lay back and find the spots on your traps that are the tightest. Move your body around by pushing from your legs. Try to relax your neck and head.
You have lots of trigger points in this area, however you might find that the overall muscle is simply too tight and you need to loosen it first before you can get specific trigger points.
Some people may find this a little awkward so…
You can also get a sock, and place a tennis ball in it. Then, standing against a wall, place the ball where you want it, hold the sock and start searching for your spots. This can often be easier as you are able to move the sock around whilst you are putting pressure on the ball. Either way is good and try both to see what suits you best.
In combination with massage therapy, it is important to get your posture sorted out. A lot of us actually have WEAK and TIGHT upper back muscles. Think about it, if your upper back muscles are weak, you want to round out your shoulders. Once your shoulder are rounded out, whether it be standing or sitting, they are on constant stretch. being on constant stretch puts them under a lot of stress and strain, and they become tight. Bang! You have a sore and achy upper back. It is important in this case to do a lot of work on these muscles. Seated rows, one arm rows and lat pull downs are great exercises that work these muscles and help you get a stronger back and reduce posture problems. Conversely, ensure that you are stretching out the front of your body. Tight pecs mean rounded shoulders, do a simple pec stretch often and you will start to have better posture, and hopefully reduce your pain immensely.
In summary, aside from the obvious massage therapy, you need to include
- Upper Back Strengthening Exercises ( To ensure better posture, less strain on the area)
One Arm Row
Lat Pull Down
- Pectoral Stretching & Release Exercises
Pec Release: Yes, I look a little like a dead fish, but it’s the most effective way to get at these babies. You will find the best response comes from the upper pecs, where the muscle starts to get smaller and go into your shoulder. It’s a big muscle, so play around. Lay on the ground with the ball underneath you. Roll around a little until you find tight and tender spots, then hold. This is a pretty painful one, but very necessary in almost everyone.
Other Causes Of Upper Back Pain
Your upper back pain might not just originate in the muscles, you may have other problems that either cause your muscles to get tight, or cause pain in themselves. Here is a quick overview of conditions that may cause upper back pain (Brukner & Kahn, 2000). Remember, knowledge is power, understand your body better and you simply will avoid more problems.
- Intervertebral Joint Sprain: This is the most common cause of pain in the thoracic area. They can occur suddenly or gradually. generally there is hyper mobility and tenderness over the affected joint.
- Paraspinal Muscle Strain: There are often trigger points in these muscles as well and ar best treated with dry needling.
- Costovertebral Joint Sprain: Disorders in this area (rib to spine attachment) include inflammation, degeneration and joint sprains. It affects the mobility of the joints.
- Scheuermann’s disease: This is only in adolescents. It is excessive kyphosis of the spine and is a common cause of pain amongst younger people.
- Rib Fracture: Speaks for itself, it is possible to fracture the posterior rib area.
- Thoracic disk prolapse: This is pretty rare as it is hard to occur in the upper back region, however it is most common between T11-12.
- T4 syndrome: This produces pins and needles or reduced sensation in the upper arm due to problems around the T4 area. It’s hard to explain but these symptoms come from the fact that it is really close to a nerve that is connected with the autonomic nervous system. Symptoms are usually gone when normal mobility of the joint is restored.
These are rare causes however can’t be overlooked.
- Cardiac causes
- Peptic Ulcer
As you can see there are quite a lot of different cause of pain in the upper back. If you are unsure it is always better to get a definite diagnosis. Head to a practitioner and make sure you know exactly where your pain is coming from.
For more back pin information check out bulging disc treatment.