Upper Back Pain or
Upper back pain is any type of pain that stretches from the middle of your back, up through and across your shoulders. While it is not a very common spinal pain, it can still cause quite a bit of pain and discomfort.
Causes of Upper Back Pain and Pain Between Shoulder Blades
Technically, the upper back is classified as the thoracic spine, which unlike the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back), does not allow for any movement. Because of this, discs and vertebrae in that region are not generally susceptible to the normal wear and tear that affects other areas of the spine. This means that upper back pain is usually caused by something other than a degenerative spine condition.
The stiffness, muscle spasms, headaches, and other general pain symptoms that come with upper back pain can be caused by a variety of factors. Injuries to other parts of your body, such as rotator cuff tears, spine fractures, or other injuries that cause trauma, can also lead to pain between your shoulder blades. A common injury is a stretching or tearing of the upper back muscles or a Trapezius Strain. This large group of muscles span the upper back, shoulders and neck. This muscle group are commonly called the “trap” muscles.
Some of the most common causes of upper back pain can include:
- Poor posture or looking downward for long periods of time (cell phone or tablet use)
- Recent or semi-recent accident trauma (symptoms can sometimes be delayed)
- Improper lifting
- Sports or overuse injuries
- Neck or shoulder strain (Trapezius Strain)
There are many spine conditions that can limit your mobility and cause chronic pain, and eventually may require surgery. Some of those more serious causes of upper back or shoulder blade pain may include:
- Herniated disc
- Degenerative disc disease
- Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis (or spinal arthritis)
- Herniated or bulging disc
- Spinal disorders like scoliosis or kyphosis
- Spinal fracture, from trauma or osteoporosis
- Spinal infection
- Spinal tumor
Certain lifestyle habits can contribute to upper back pain as well. These can include:
- Poor ergonomic set-ups at work
- Lack of exercise
- Carrying bags that are too heavy
- Weak abdominal muscles
Each case is different. For some, upper back pain can be contributed to something as simple as an old mattress, the wrong type of shoes or carrying a heavier purse.
Muscle Strain of the Upper Back (Trapezius Strain)
This common injury is a stretching or tearing of the trapezius. This large muscle group spans the upper back, shoulders and neck. These muscles are commonly called the “trap” muscles.
Treatments for Upper Back Pain
There are many treatments for upper back pain. However, what works for someone else may not work for you. The severity of your symptoms and how much they prevent you from your daily activities will influence the type of treatment that brings you relief. Keep trying different methods or work with your back specialist until you find what is best for you.
In most cases, upper back pain can be treated with at-home treatments or lifestyle modifications. Some of these may include:
- Daily exercise (stretches)
- Practicing proper posture (You may also be interested in reading: Four Ways to Keep Your Spine Healthy)
- Losing weight
- Eating anti-inflammatory foods
- Over-the-counter pain medicines
- Heat or ice
For more severe cases, a back pain specialist may recommend prescription medication, which may include a muscle relaxant or steroid shot and in some cases surgery.
When to See a Spine Doctor
Although uncomfortable and inconvenient, upper back pain is typically not a cause for worry. Most cases of upper back pain resolve in a few weeks without further treatment. Unless you have signs of a severe illness, injury, or heart attack, allow your back pain to work itself out before you contact your doctor; however, if you don’t feel better in 1 to 2 weeks, call your primary care physician who can then refer you to us, a spine specialist, if necessary.
Other circumstances that may require a call to your doctor include numbness or weakness in the legs, difficulty walking, or any type of back pain with fever. If back pain occurs with chest pains or other symptoms of a heart attack, such as sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or pressure in the chest, contact emergency services immediately.
If you are in the North Houston, Conroe, The Woodlands, Spring area and believe you need to see a spine specialist for your upper back pain or a trapezius strain, call our office at 281-880-0700 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fayaz.