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Why Do I Have Upper Back Pain?

One of the most common reasons a physical therapist is sought out is because of complaints of upper back pain. So what causes upper back pain and what do you do about it?

As you’re reading this, what does your posture look like? Are you hunched over a computer desk or looking down at your phone or tablet? I personally just straightened my back as I typed this, as I was hunched over typing on my laptop, feeling a bit of upper back pain myself. It’s this repetitive day in and day out posture that typically causes upper back pain. But what’s going on physiologically to cause the pain?

Your upper back is comprised of your thoracic spine; 12 vertebral bones stacked one on top of the other, and between the vertebrae are supportive pieces of cartilage called “discs.” Many people have heard of a herniated disc in the spine, but this is not the typical cause of upper back pain, as there is a very thick ligament that runs vertically up and down the thoracic spine that prevents the disc from herniating backwards. This ligament is also present in the lumbar spine, but it’s much thinner, which is why people typically have herniated discs in the lumbar spine, or the lower back.

In order for the spine to move, there must be joints. In the thoracic spine, these joints are called facet joints. When you bend forward, like what you do with hunching over at a computer desk (did I catch you again!?), these facet joints open, allowing for this forward or flexion movement. And just the opposite, these joints will close down when you lean backwards or extend. Overtime, with repetitive flexed postures, your facet joints get “stuck” in this opened position, making it difficult to straighten up or extend backwards. Additionally, all the structures in the front of your body (shoulders, chest, neck) becomes tight, and as a result the muscles in the upper back region become over stretched and weak.

This joint and muscle imbalance causes pain and leads to deformities, such as the dreaded hump in the upper back, better known as Dowager’s hump. With advanced age, the excessive flexion, or kyphosis, of the spine can even lead to small fractures, causing pain and immobility.

So what can you do for this upper back pain? The earlier you start treatment, the better and quicker your results! However, even if you ignored the signs and symptoms for years and now want to do something about it, it’s not too late!

A Physical Therapist can perform different treatment techniques, such as mobilizations and muscle energy techniques, to improve the mobility of your spine. It feels great! Trust me, your spine will thank you. They will also provide you with appropriate stretches and strengthening exercises to improve the quality of movement of the spine and improve posture and strength, leading to reduced and/or eliminated pain!

Want to get checked out for your upper back pain? Call us at 959-209-4318 or click to the right for a free consultation and we will assist you on your journey to feeling better!


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