Upper Back Pain 2017-07-28T18:47:06+00:00

Upper Back Pain

Although upper back pain is not a very common spinal disorder, it can cause significant discomfort and pain when it does occur. The most common causes of upper back pain are muscular irritation (myofascial pain) and joint dysfunction.

There can be an injury to a disc in the upper back (such as a herniated disc or degenerated disc) that causes upper back pain, but such injuries are very rare. It is important to note that the thoracic spine (also called upper back, middle back, or mid-back) is very different in form and function than the cervical spine (neck) or the lumbar spine (lower back). While the neck and lower back are designed to provide us with mobility, the thoracic spine is designed to be very strong and stable to allow us to stand upright and to protect the vital internal organs in the chest. Because this section of the spinal column has a great deal of stability and only limited movement, there is generally little risk of injury or degeneration over time in the upper back.

Causes of Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain can occur as a result of trauma or sudden injury, or it can occur through strain or poor posture over time. As an example of the latter cause, in recent years, upper back pain has become a familiar complaint from people who work at computers most of the day. Often, upper back pain occurs along with neck pain and/or shoulder pain.

The vast majority of cases of upper back pain are due to one (or both) of the following causes:

  • Muscular irritation (myofascial pain)
  • Joint dysfunction

Often, muscular irritation and upper back pain is due to either de-conditioning (lack of strength) or overuse injuries (such as repetitive motions). Muscle strains, sports injuries, auto accidents, or other injuries can all result in pain from muscular irritation.

Because the upper back pain is related to large muscles in the shoulder area, most rehabilitation programs will include a great deal of stretching and strengthening exercises.
If there is a specific area that is very tender, the source of the upper back pain may be an active “trigger point”. Trigger points are usually located in a skeletal muscle.

Symptoms include pain that is intensified with prolonged sitting and standing; stiffness; headaches; muscle fatigue; forward head carriage; rounded shoulders with a “hump” that develops at the base of your neck; restricted range of motion.

Upper back pain is most amenable to manual treatments, such as:

  • Exercise/Active and passive physical therapy
  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Nutritional supplements that reduce pain and inflammation are also very helpful
  • Scoliosis
  • Deep massage or massage therapy
  • Acupuncture

Everyone’s spine has natural curves. These curves round our shoulders and make our lower back curve slightly inward. But some people have spines that also curve from side to side. Unlike poor posture, these curves can’t be corrected simply by learning to stand up straight. This condition of side-to-side spinal curves is called scoliosis. On an x-ray, the spine of a person with scoliosis looks more like an “S” or a “C” than a straight line. Some of the bones in a scoliotic spine also may have rotated slightly, making the person’s waist or shoulders appear uneven.

It is difficult to completely correct scoliosis, but chiropractic adjustments as well as massage, physiotherapy, and custom orthotics have been shown to improve if not prevent a worsening curve. Motion is necessary to prevent degeneration to the discs and arthritic pains.

Treating scoliosis early is an important factor in successful treatment. If you suspect that your child or one of your children has scoliosis, don’t hesitate to contact us so that we can do a thorough spinal check-up on your young one.

A spine is healthy if:
When you have scoliosis:

  • The spine forms a straight line from the neck to the hips when seen from the front or the back.
  • The head is centered.
  • Both shoulders are at the same height.
  • Both shoulder blades stick out the same amount.
  • Both side of the waist look even.
  • Your spine curves into a “C” or “S” shape when seen from the back.
  • Your head may lean to one side.
  • One shoulder may be higher than the other.
  • One shoulder blade may stick out more than the other.
  • One side of your waist may seem higher or flatter than the other.


Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of the cartilage and bones of joints caused by “wear-and-tear” processes. It is often associated with degenerative changes in the disc and results in friction between adjacent vertebrae. The friction causes a strain as well as a loss of motion in the facets (gliding joints) of the spine. If these joints are exposed to continued trauma such as strenuous exercise, weakened muscles, and the inevitable factors of aging and heredity, the results can be severe low-back and/or leg pain.

While we cannot halt the process of osteoarthritis, studies suggest that a conservative and multi-disciplinary approach, utilizing physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, laser, and custom orthotics may slow its progression and can improve the quality of life while living with the disease.

If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis, your spine is usually less flexible; therefore, it becomes more vulnerable to injury. Under our care, your treatment may include spinal adjustments, physical therapy, and stretching and strengthening exercises. We can also recommend natural, drug-free ways to control your pain and discomfort.