Upper and middle back pain has become more and more prevalent over the past number of months due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The number of people working from home has increased leading to less movement throughout the day, longer working hours and increased stress. As a result we have seen more people presenting with upper back pain in the clinic lately.
Causes of Upper Back Pain
Pain and discomfort in the upper back can occur anywhere from the base of the neck to the lower ribcage. The upper back is much more resilient than the neck and lower back, but when pain or injury presents itself here it is typically due to long term poor posture, increased stress levels or a previous injury. The bones and joints in this area of the back are not as mobile as those in the lower back or neck. Their main function is to protect our vital organs, such as the heart and lungs. Therefore, breathing mechanics has such an important role in the function of your upper back.
What are the Main Risks from being Sedentary?
Our current working and social circles mean that people are becoming more sedentary leading to a lack of movement in our joints and muscles. These sedentary postures lead to joint stiffness as the synovial fluid in our joints stagnates. A lack of movement over days, weeks and months causes out bodies to adapt these poor postures. A sedentary lifestyle also leads to a change in stress levels where our resting heart rate increases. This has a knock-on effect to our breathing pattern which becomes shallower and more driven more by our superficial muscles such as the pecs and upper traps.
Changes in Trends of Clients & Patients
Over the past few months, we have seen some noticeable changes in our client’s schedules, where they are spending longer hours on the laptop with a poor home desk set up. Workers are less likely to get up and move about like they would have done in the office space. With lockdown causing gyms and fitness centres to remain closed for weeks on end, many people have turned to home workouts. These mainly involve high intensity interval workouts where push ups can be the focus leading to increased tightness and protection in the chest and upper back. All of this is leading to more upper back pain for more of the nation.
Sources of Upper back Pain
- Muscular Irritation: large muscles attach the shoulder girdle to the shoulder blade and the back of the ribcage. These muscles are prone to developing tightness and strains that can be painful and difficult to alleviate. This irritation is typically due to a lack of strength in the muscles or repetitive motions and postures.
- Joint Dysfunction: Joint degeneration in the upper back due to lack of movement or previous injury can become painful and dysfunctional.
What are the Symptoms of Upper Back Pain?
If the upper back pain becomes bad enough to limit your movements, it usually feels like:
- A sharp or burning pain
- A dull ache
- A stiffness or tightness in the joints and muscles
- A ‘nervy’ pain that refers to your neck, shoulder or arms
Upper Back Pain Concerns from Recent Papers & Literature
As one of the leading physios in Dublin we continually keep an eye on the latest medical papers and research literature. Recent research suggests upper back pain is a common condition, especially in the adult working population. A systematic review of adults with upper back pain suggests associated musculoskeletal pain and difficulty in performing activities of daily living are the main complaints in this population. Although upper back is less frequent than low back pain and neck pain, the studies indicate that 1 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women suffer from upper back pain (Fouquet et al., 2015).
Other Factors that can Affect Upper Back Pain
If you find that you are experiencing upper back pain it could be worth considering the following factors as they could be aggravating your pain.
- Increased level of stress and high blood pressure
- Overall joint stiffness and rheumatic conditions
- Loss of strength due to a lack of resistance training
3 Things to do to Try Stay Supple
So, now that we know what is and causes upper back pain here are 3 things you can do to try stay supple and alleviate or prevent upper back pain.
- Rest: if your back hurts a lot – take a break. But do not leave it too long before you get moving again. When the pain settles down go seek advice from your physio to resolve the issue.
- Change Your Posture: there is no perfect posture. The best movement throughout the day is you next movement. So be sure to change up your position often during the day especially if you are working from home
- Exercise & Mobility: Exercises that stretch and strengthen your upper back and shoulders help to improve the condition of your muscles. This can help improve your posture, core strength, reduce pain and prevent injury.
Upper Back Pain Treatments
If you find that your struggling with upper back pain then you’re not alone. We treat upper back pain every week in the clinic and, like most physio treatments, the sooner the upper back pain can be addressed the quicker it can be treated. Contact one of our physios online or give us a call now on +35316855181 to get a plan in place to improve mobility and strength.