Upper back pain is a very common course of discomfort and limited mobility that may be caused by bad posture or muscle strain. Here, our Stittsvilled physiotherapists explain what kinds of physical therapies we prescribe to our patients in order to reduce and eliminate their pain, alleviate their discomfort and improve their mobility.
Pain affecting your upper back is a common source of discomfort and reduced mobility for many of our patients. It can cause discomfort that may manifest in many different ways, all of which can negatively impact parts of your life. If not promptly treated by a physiotherapist, upper back pain may become a recurring lifelong condition for people, causing discomfort and further injury down the road to already strained muscles.
What Makes Up My Upper Back?
Your spine is divided into 3 sections, the cervical, thoracic and lumbar. In order, these describe your neck, upper-to-mid-back and lower back.
Your thoracic spine is the largest portion of your back as includes what we commonly think of as our upper- and mid-back. Your upper back is distinguished by muscle groups found in it. Particularly, those that help you to move your shoulders, your shoulder blades, your arms and your spine.
Your upper back works with your mid-back to fulfill important movement along 3 planes: rotation, extension or flexion and side flexion.
What Are The Causes of Upper Back Pain?
The most common causes of pain affecting our patients' upper backs are starting and repeated irritation. The actual cause of the pain in your upper back may vary widely though. You may have suffered an acute upper back injury by straining to lift something heavy or twisting your back while holding something heavy.
You can also develop degenerative upper back pain from small continued strains on your muscles such as by having poor posture.
Regardless of the root cause, some of the most common symptoms associated with discomfort and pain in your upper back include: muscle pain and stiffness anywhere in your back, bruising and tenderness, headaches, muscle spasms, and muscle weakness in the upper back.
Physiotherapy Treatments for Upper Back Pain
Our Stittsville physiotherapists offer treatment to patients who are suffering from upper back pain using a number of different methods. These methods fall under two large umbrellas: active and passive physical therapies.
Passive Physiotherapy for Your Upper Back
Passive physiotherapy is called this because it doesn't require the patient to take any action themselves. Our physiotherapists conduct treatments on their patients during passive physiotherapy in order to help loosen, relax and encourage the healing of muscles to restore strength and mobility.
Manual therapy is the most common therapy where the physiotherapist will use their hands and body to mobilize, stretch, release, your tissues and joints. For upper back pain, there are a number of passive treatments our physical therapists might use. These include:
- Manual Therapy - Our physiotherapists offer a number of massage therapy modalities depending on the root cause of your upper back pain, from Swedish massage to deep tissue to help loosen, relax and restore mobility to seized or spasming muscles.
- Functional Dry Needling / Acupuncture - Our trained physiotherapists utilize sterilized needles to release trigger points, and encourage the body's natural healing.
- Hot and Cold Packs - Variably applying heat or cold to affected muscles can help to both increase circulation to injured muscles, or slow things down and help to reduce inflammation.
- Ultrasound / Modalities - Using ultrasonic waves to manually stimulate affected muscles can help to alleviate cramping, spasming in inflammation in the muscles of your upper back. Other electrotherapy modalities (TENS, IFC) may be used to relieve pain.
Active Physiotherapy for Your Upper Back
Active physiotherapy is exercises that are prescribed by our physiotherapists to one of our clients based on the root cause of their pain, lack of mobility or discomfort. These exercises work to encourage strength, mobility and healing in the injured part of the body while also promoting general well-being and physical health.
The following are some examples of exercises that we may prescribe to our patients at Motion Works Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Centre if they are reporting upper back pain:
Always wait for a physiotherapists' prescription of an exercise before engaging injured, pained, or stiff muscles. If you attempt exercises or activities without consulting your physiotherapist, you may cause yourself further injury and pain!
Foam Roller Thoracic Mobilization
Place a foam roller on the floor, then lay lengthwise on it, from your tailbone to the back of your skull. Place your arms and hands overhead, at chest level (not over your head). Then complete following movements:
- 'T' - open your arms outward to the side, downward toward the floor (do not have to touch the floor, but aim to be in line with your body), forming a 'T' shape (from standing view of you). Return gently and repeat 10-15 repetitions.
- 'Y' - open your arms outward but slightly toward your head as you lower toward to floor (do not have to touch, but aim to be in line with your body), forming a 'Y' shape (from above view). Return gently and repeat 10-15 repetitions.
These movements help oppose the minutes/hours spent seated at a computer, helping to open your chest, and mobilize/move your upper back spinal joints & tissues!
Overhead Arm Reach
Starting in a sitting or standing position, reach your arms above your head.
Keeping both arms stretched above your head and holding your hand together, lean to the right. If you would like to deepen the stretch, gentle pull on your left hand with your right.
Repeat this, leaning to the left instead of the right.
Repeat this exercise 10-15 times, alternating which side you lean to each time.
Start on all fours and make sure your hands are beneath your shoulders and your knees are beneath your hips.
Cat Pose - Exhale and round your mid-back, lifting your ribs up to the sky and letting your head and neck relax.
Cow Pose - Inhale and lift your head and chest forward while sinking your stomach towards the floor.
Transition from one of these poses to the other 10-15 times.