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Understanding Upper Back Pain: Overview | El Paso, TX

Understanding Upper Back Pain: Overview | El Paso, TX

Pain in the upper or mid back is less frequent than neck or lower back pain. The upper back is the region below the cervical spine, or the neck, and above the lower back, or the lumbar spine. The upper spine is known as the thoracic spine, and it's the most stable portion of the spine. The range of motion in the upper back is limited because of the spine's attachments to the ribs, or the rib cage.

What is Upper Back Pain?

Also called the thoracic spine, the upper back is designed to support the ribs, sternum, vital organs and the vertebrae. Although uncommon, discomfort can be caused by upper back pain and is typically caused by joint irritation or improper posture. In fact, half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms during the year caused by poor sitting posture while working in a desk.

What are the Symptoms of Upper Back Pain?

Upper back pain is generally caused by soft tissue injuries, such as sprains or strains, stress and tension caused by poor posture or from looking down for long time periods (eg, texting, cell phone usage). Symptoms might include:

  • Pain
  • Tightness
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasm
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Headache

Since the ribs are attached to the thoracic spine by the vertebral bodies of the spine, some patients experience pain when taking a deep breath, sneezing or coughing.

What Causes Upper Back Pain?

An episode of upper back pain can be triggered by various movements and actions, including:

  • Twisting
  • Excessive bending
  • Whiplash or other neck injury
  • Lifting improperly
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Overuse, repetitive movements
  • Contact sports
  • Carrying too heavy a load
  • Wearing an overloaded backpack
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight

Poor posture in general, without taking a break to walk around or working at the computer for a long time can contribute to upper back pain. Both muscle sprain or strain and muscle fatigue, which often results from poor posture, may cause the upper back pain.

Is Upper Back Pain Serious? What Can I Do About It?

In most cases, upper back pain is not a cause for stress although it can be painful, uncomfortable and inconvenient. Furthermore, if pain develops suddenly and is acute, such as in the case of an injury (eg, fall), also, if pain and symptoms (eg, weakness) progressively worsen, you may need to seek immediate medical attention. Generally, several home treatments may help alleviate upper back pain. These include:

  • Short-term rest
  • Gentle stretches
  • Over-the-counter drugs and/or medications, such as ibuprofen, (Motrin®), naproxen sodium (Aleve®), or acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Take with food, and do not take more than the recommended dosage.
  • Ice (to decrease pain and swelling). Use a cold pack that is commercially available or fill a plastic bag with ice and seal it then wrap it in a towel. Apply for 20 minutes every two to three hours for the first 2 to 3 days to the area.
  • Heat (following the first 72 hours). After applying moist heat, gently stretch the muscles to improve mobility and relieve stiffness.

Your doctor may prescribe certain drugs and/or medications, like a muscle relaxant or perform trigger point injections to help break up muscle spasms. They may also recommend physical therapy to relieve pain and further increase strength, mobility and flexibility.  Furthermore, a primary care physician may include other treatments, such as chiropractic care and acupuncture. Most cases of upper back pain resolve with no treatment in 1 to 2 weeks. Once you experience no symptoms, resume your normal activities gradually. Do not rush things, though. As always, however, acute or abrupt upper back pain ought to be addressed in order to determine the source of the symptoms.

How Can Chiropractic Care Help with Upper Back Pain?

Chiropractic care may be a great way to control and relieve pain and swelling caused by upper back pain. Routine chiropractic care supplies patients with upper back pain treatment that is a safe, non-invasive, non-addictive alternative to prescription drugs or over-the-counter pain medications (OTCs), that are generally prescribed to patients to help them manage their pain and discomfort.

Chiropractors deliver a gentle, non-invasive, non-addictive treatment, called a chiropractic adjustment. Spinal adjustments reduce misalignments or joint restrictions in the spine and joints and enhance functioning of the musculoskeletal and nervous system. By enhancing spinal health, your system function and decreasing joint stiffness, your body gets the ability to better handle symptoms as well as naturally heal itself. Below are some of the health advantages chiropractic care can provide for patients with upper back pain:

  • Reduced pain and discomfort
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Improved range of motion
  • Improved flexibility
  • Increased muscle tone and strength


Dr. Alex Jimenez's Insight

Although pain and discomfort are most commonly reported along the neck, or the cervical spine, and the lower back, or the lumbar spine, the upper and mid back, or the thoracic spine, may occasionally manifest symptoms of pain and discomfort. The thoracic spine is the largest portion of the spine, consisting of 12 of the 14 vertebrae which make up the spine. Although it is also considered to be the most stable region of the spine, because the rib cage attaches to the thoracic spine, it's not unknown for dysfunction to affect the upper and mid back regions of the spine, from time to time. Chiropractic care can help treat upper back pain utilizing spinal adjustments and manual manipulations to carefully realign the spine and restore the natural integrity of the spine.

To see if chiropractic care is ideal for your condition, chiropractors will execute a consultation and examination if necessary and they may refer you for diagnostic imaging, such as x-ray or MRI. Dependent on the findings of the chiropractic exam and appointment, your doctor of chiropractic may decide to co-treat your back pain with other healthcare professionals, including other primary care physicians, physical therapists or massage therapists. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic as well as to spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .

Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez


Additional Topics: Back Pain

According to statistics, approximately 80% of people will experience symptoms of back pain at least once throughout their lifetimes. Back pain is a common complaint which can result due to a variety of injuries and/or conditions. Often times, the natural degeneration of the spine with age can cause back pain. Herniated discs occur when the soft, gel-like center of an intervertebral disc pushes through a tear in its surrounding, outer ring of cartilage, compressing and irritating the nerve roots. Disc herniations most commonly occur along the lower back, or lumbar spine, but they may also occur along the cervical spine, or neck. The impingement of the nerves found in the low back due to injury and/or an aggravated condition can lead to symptoms of sciatica.


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General Disclaimer

The information herein is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified health care professional. Our information scope is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, sensitive health issues, functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from a wide array of disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our videos, posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate to and support, directly or indirectly, our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We provide copies of supporting research studies available to regulatory boards and the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation of how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to contact us. Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN* email: coach@elpasofunctionalmedicine.com phone: 915-850-0900 Licensed in: Texas & New Mexico*