What is upper back pain?
Many people experience pain between their neck and shoulder blades. This is called upper back pain. Upper back pain can be constant or occur only when doing activities. Sometimes upper back pain can be so severe that it interferes with normal life. A doctor can help diagnose and help determine what to do to relieve upper back pain.
Upper back pain is the discomfort experienced between the neck and shoulder blades. If you have upper back pain, you may have symptoms that come on gradually or all at once. This could include:
- Sharp, stabbing sensation
- Dull and aching feeling
- Muscle tightness or stiffness
Upper back pain may be caused by several different things like:
- Injury, overuse, or muscle strain
- Poor posture (when you hold your body with rounded shoulders)
- Herniated disk (when the small disks that cushion your spine bulge or break open)
- Fracture (broken bone)
- Osteoarthritis (arthritis where the cushion between your joints breaks down)
- Myofascial pain (long-lasting muscle pain)
Upper back pain can affect anyone.
Diagnosis for upper back pain
Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose upper back pain. To get the diagnosis, your doctor may ask you to:
- Answer questions about your health history, symptoms, and physical activities.
- Complete a physical exam.
In some cases, your doctor may also order an:
- X-ray, which uses radiation similar to radio waves that can produce pictures of the inside of the human body.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which uses a magnetic field with radio waves to take pictures of the inside of the human body. It can often show problems that other medical imaging techniques may miss.
A health care provider will interview you to help determine a diagnosis. The provider may also want to order other tests to check for any other potential causes of your upper back pain.
Treatments for upper back pain
To relieve upper back pain, your doctor will customize your treatment based on your symptoms, risk factors, and medical history.
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following treatments:
Physical therapy could include things like helping you improve your posture and the way you hold your body, stretching your muscles, examining your pain tolerance, aerobics, and strengthening your abdomen muscles. These interventions ultimately take strain off of your back muscles and improve pain levels.
Mindfulness and meditation
To manage the emotional side of relieving upper back pain, your doctor may refer you to a mindfulness or meditation specialist. This can help you manage frustration, stress, and depression as you continue down your road of healing.
To relieve upper back pain, your doctor may evaluate your diet. Some foods are irritating to the body, especially foods containing high amounts of sugar or fat. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy foods can help strengthen your back and reduce pain.
Some injection-based procedures can help to relieve upper back pain. For instance, your doctor might recommend a nerve block (medicine that blocks nerve pain) or epidural steroid injection (pain medicine injected into the body quickly).
Your doctor may prescribe medications like anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants to help relieve upper back pain. These medications are usually done for the short term or in conjunction with other treatment options.
If other treatment options don’t work, your doctor may consider surgery to help relieve upper back pain. Surgery is a serious decision and is usually considered a last resort.
Other simple treatment ideas to try at home include exercise, stretching, rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medications.
Speak with your doctor to determine which treatment option is right for you.
Possible complications and side effects
Knowing what treatment can help relieve upper back pain and understand how that treatment might affect your body is essential. Here are some potential side effects to be aware of:
- The same exercises don’t work for everyone. Make sure to consult your doctor before beginning a new workout to help relieve upper back pain.
- Injection-based treatments may not always work and may cause swelling, bruising, and pain.
- Having surgery comes with serious risks like blood loss, nerve damage, or infection. Also, surgery doesn’t guarantee that the pain in your upper back will go away.
Other medications may have different side effects. Consult your health care provider about possible complications of any medications you might take to relieve upper back pain.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “7 Ways to Treat Chronic Back Pain Without Surgery.”
Michigan Medicine: “Upper and Middle Back Pain.”
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