Upper Back Pain: How Chiropractic & Cervical Spinal Decompression Can Help Provide Chronic Pain Relief
Lately, the use of technology seems to have shifted the common complaint presenting to chiropractic offices. Before, the most common complaint walking into a chiropractic office was lower back pain. Now, people are seeking relief for upper back pain more frequently. Upper back pain (thoracic spine pain) is a common condition in the general population.
The use of computers, tablets, laptops, and phones for hours and hours per day is creating horrific postures that cause terrible, nagging pain among other symptoms. People are spending more and more time in front of screens with their head and necks forward and their shoulders and upper backs rounded.
It has been reported that the average person spends over 10 hours per day in front of a screen. That equates to more than half of your waking hours even if you’re lucky enough to get 8 hours of sleep every night. If the average person, spending that much time in front of a screen is also sitting or standing in bad posture, symptoms are inevitable.
How Likely Am I To Get Upper Back Pain?
Symptoms can be felt as young as adolescents and teens. It is most commonly found in adults in the 30’s and beyond. The pain usually increases and becomes more frequent the older you get.
Being overweight will cause more strain to the muscles and joints in the upper back. This will increase the risk of pain.
Working constantly on computers and laptops will increase your risks of getting upper back pain. Other careers that create bad posture, for example, are barbers/hair stylist and lab techs due to constantly looking down and rounding shoulders.
Lack of ExerciseThe lack of exercises can increase the risk of upper back pain. When you are in shape, muscles and ligaments are stronger and able to hold you in a better posture.
What Makes Does The Upper Back Consist Of?
The upper back is considered the thoracic region of the spine. The thoracic spine consists of 12 bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated by an intervertebral disc that are the shock absorbers in the spine. The spinal cord runs through the middle of the spine and the nerves branch out from the spinal cord exiting the spine from behind the discs.
There are multiple muscles and ligaments that are attached to the spine that help with the stability and movements of the body. Each vertebral segment (a vertebral segment consists of 2 bones and a disc) needs to be mobile and functional for the well being of the spine. Twelve ribs connect to the twelve thoracic vertebrae and wrap around the front of the body creating the rib cage. The rib cage protects the vital internal organs such as the heart and lungs. The thoracic region is the most stable of the three regions of the spine. That being said, it is less likely degenerate or have disc herniations.
What Are Symptoms Associated With Upper Back Pain Problems?
Due to all the structures included in the upper back, a number of symptoms can occur depending on the mechanism of injury. The most common symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Dull, achy pain
- Muscle spasms
- Burning pain
- Tenderness to touch
- Sharp or stabbing pain
- Numbness and/or tingling sensations
What Usually Causes Upper Back Pain?
Upper back pain is most commonly caused by the following:
Poor posture is the position in which you sit, stand, walk or lay down. On a deeper level, it's the position of the skeleton inside the body. Having the normal curves in the spine from the side view and the balance of the spine and pelvis from the front to back view. When that posture is irregular, it can and will create joint and muscle imbalance causing upper back pain. Sitting at the computer with the head lowered and the shoulders rounded, looking down at your phone, tablet, or laptop will lead to upper back pain and muscle tension.
Traumatic events such as sprain and strain injuries (whiplash) from car accidents or bad falls pull and damage the muscles and ligaments creating pain and inflammation. Bone fractures can also be possible depending on the severity of the trauma.
Overuse injuries like mousing, painting, and other activities involving constant/repetitive use of the arms can cause muscle spasms and tension in the upper back muscles.
Myofascial trigger points (also known by most as "knots") are a common upper back ailment. These knots are tense, contracted muscles that are very tender to touch, easy to get and hard to get rid of.
Stress can manifest into physical pain, commonly targeting the upper back. Most people tend to hold their tension and stress in the upper back area, leading to pain.
"Pinched nerves" from bad vertebral alignments and herniated discs. These can cause sharp, pinching, or stabbing pain. This pain can also shoot or refer down the arms or around the ribcage. Pinched nerves can also create burning pain and/or numbness and tingling sensations.
Herniated discs cause pain, swelling, and inflammation in the vertebral joints. If the vertebrae is bulging enough, it can create pressure on a nerve and lead to referred pain to the upper back.
Osteoarthritis occurs with wear and tear of the bone and cartilage in the joint. It can cause pain and stiffness in the joint. When this happens in your spinal joints, this can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion.
Spinal malpositions such as scoliosis or increased kyphosis. A scoliosis is defined as a lateral curvature of the spine. A kyphosis is an abnormal curvature in the back beyond the 45 degree curve that is widely considered normal for a kyphosis. This bad posture in time can lead to the dreaded hump on the top of the back called Dowagers hump.
Rib Head Misalignments
Rib head misalignments can occur with a cough or sneeze. The rib (where it is attached to each side if the thoracic vertebrae) can shift out of its normal position causing sharp pain with coughing, laughing or sneezing.
How Is Upper Back Pain Diagnosed?
Diagnosing upper back issues can typically be done by learning the history of the pain, findings during an examination, and with imaging studies such as x-rays or MRIs.
What Treatment Options Are Available?
There are several treatments options available depending on the cause of the upper back pain.
Chiropractic adjustments can help to realign misaligned vertebrae and relieve pressure from a disc or nerve that is compressed. They will also help regain motion and function to the spine that will help prevent degenerative or arthritic changes.
Cervical decompression therapy helps to pull and stretch the neck and upper back. While the initial treatment focuses on reducing the pressure in the spinal joints of the neck, as the treatment progresses you'll feel further reduction of pressure in the upper thoracic spine.
Pulsed Electromagnet Field (PEMF) Therapy helps muscles to relax and alleviate chronic pain conditions. We've seen great results with patients that have tried other types of medications and treatments with no change.
Improving Your Posture
Practicing better postural habits such as sitting in good posture when at the computer and sleeping on your back or on your side with a pillow between knees. It shouldn't hurt to have maintain the right posture, but some patients have trouble with doing this long-term.
Manual and Massage Therapy
Manual therapies such as myofascial release will help to repair damaged muscles. Similar to massage therapy, manual therapy works to reduce scar tissue and adhesions in the muscles that are restricting motion and causing pain. Massage therapy can work to relax muscles and will vary in the amount of pressure being applied.
Ice or Heat
Ice is used to decrease pain and inflammation while heat is used to relax tight or tense muscles. Heat works well when muscles are stiff and having trouble relaxing by improving circulation. If your problem is related to a spinal problem, disc issue, or inflammation, ice will work much better. It's usually best to start with ice before trying out heat.
Practicing stress relieving activities such as exercise and meditation. Everyone should have way to alleviate tension and stress. While sitting and resting works to a degree, doing vigorous activity will go a long way in eliminating stress chemicals in your body.
ExerciseExercising with stretching and strengthening activities helps to reduce tightness and stiffness, then strengthen the muscles to stabilize and prevent injury. Our patients receive a home exercise program focused on helping the thoracic spine. Your doctor will recommend specific exercises from the program to help your particular condition.
Most people try to deal with upper back pain by doing nothing and waiting for it to go away on its own. Others tough it out and categorize themselves as having a high pain tolerance. The problem with both of these methods, usually the pain only gets worse and is harder to get rid of the longer it's there.
Other times, medications are taken on a daily basis and constant massages are scheduled but the pain seems to keep coming back again and again. The best thing to do ,in my opinion, is to get evaluated by your local chiropractor and get an imaging study to assess the severity of your condition. The more information you have about what is creating your pain, the easier it is to figure out what treatment options should be taken.
Having upper back pain doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of pain.
Let CORE Chiropractic help you get back on track with personalized chiropractic care, cervical spinal decompression and a custom treatment plan. Call today for your consultation, or schedule an appointment.