Question:

How does upper back pain develop?

Your Mom was Right--You Should Sit Up Straight!

When one thinks of back pain, initial thoughts tend to concern the lower back. But let's not forget that the mid and upper back are part of the spine, too, and back pain symptoms can be felt there as well.

The structural support of the upper part of the spine is constantly challenged by the pull of gravity and the weight of your head. Since gravity is pulling the body forward and down and the weight of the head is substantial, the muscles in the thoracic spine (the portion of your back below the neck and above the lower back) have to constantly work to keep your torso upright. If those muscles are weak or deconditioned, the resultant stress of even the most natural of forces can create chronic or acute upper back pain.

Posture is the key to preventing this type of back pain, so for all those parents who nag their kids to stand up straight, keep it up! People who sit a lot, work at a computer or desk, or otherwise spend the majority of their time doing tasks in front of their body are prone to developing rounded shoulders. Having this type of hunched posture creates an alignment problem in the upper back and shoulders and results in a constant strain on the postural muscles. This continual strain causes those muscles to become overworked, which weakens them, making them less tolerable to even normal stress and strain. A cycle is created, perpetuated by weakness and poor posture. The result is upper back pain.

Upper back pain relief is best achieved through a combination approach. The use of modalities such as ice or heat will help ease the pain and muscle tightness. Exercises aimed at stretching the neck, chest and shoulder muscles will make it easier to achieve correct posture, and strengthening exercises for the upper back and shoulders will give those muscles what they need to maintain that posture. A physical therapist or qualified trainer are great resources to help you develop a comprehensive program that will alleviate this problem.

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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.