Back pain is a common problem experienced by many Australians; in fact 1 in 6 Australians (9.2% of the population) experience some kind of back pain at one point or another in their lives. For the majority of these back pain sufferers, the pain comes and goes quickly and is usually felt in the lower back area. Almost 70-90% of back pain patients are diagnosed with lower back pain, only 10-30% of patients suffer from upper back pain and there is a solid reason behind this. The upper back is structurally stronger than the lower back and since it is connected with the rib cage, it is not as mobile as the lower back. It is, therefore, less prone to common bending and twisting type injuries that are usually the cause of lower back pain.
But just because our upper back is less mobile, more protected, and structurally stronger than the lower back it doesn’t mean we are completely protected from experiencing upper back pain in our lives.
What is Upper Back Pain?
Upper back pain also medically referred to as thoracic back pain is any type of pain or discomfort felt in the area extending from the neck to the end of the rib cage. This area includes the shoulder area, shoulder blades, lower portion of the neck, chest region, and the spine.
What Are The Common Causes Of Upper Back Pain?
When it occurs upper back pain can cause significant discomfort and create real disruption to daily life. Here is how upper back pain (thoracic spine pain or TSP) can creep into your life:
- Poor Posture
Poor posture is one of the leading causes of thoracic spine pain or upper back pain in recent times. A sedentary lifestyle, poor workplace ergonomics, and bad work habits are the major culprits. Sitting on an office chair for long periods with shoulders hunched forward and rounded back can cause structural changes in the back and neck. Over time, this can lead to pain and other complications.
- Muscle Overuse
Overuse or misuse of back muscles is another common cause of upper back pain. Performing repetitive activities, lifting heavy weights above the shoulder, and using improper lifting techniques can all cause muscle strain, injury, muscle tightness, and irritation. If neglected, these symptoms can lead to chronic upper back pain in the long run.
- Traumatic Injury
Traumatic events, such as a vehicular accident (car, motorbike, or a cycling accident), a sports collision, a fall from height, working out too hard, and work-related accidents can result in mild to severe injuries such as a fractured vertebrae, nerve damage, disc damage, muscle damage, and spinal bone damage. These traumatic injuries put a person at risk of lasting complications, including chronic pain.
Infections, such as a paraspinal abscess (spinal epidural abscess) – a collection of germs and pus formed between bones of the spine and the spinal cord, can compress the spinal nerves or spinal cord in the thoracic spine resulting in upper back pain and other complications, however, such infections are very rare.
- Herniated Disc
While it is quite common to see herniated discs causing problems in the lower back region, they are not as common and problematic in the thoracic spine region. Age-related spinal degeneration, however, can become the cause of upper back pain.
Sometimes the source of the upper back pain is a problem in the bones and joints rather than the muscles. Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the bones and makes them weak and brittle. Sometimes osteoporosis affects the thoracic spine causing sprain, strain, and muscle fatigue which eventually becomes the cause of upper back pain.
- Other Medical Conditions
In addition to the causes noted above, upper back pain can also develop in conjunction with other medical conditions not related to the spine, these include:
- Acid Reflux (GERD)
- Sever spinal deformity
- problematic kyphosis
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