Upper back pain is a very common source of discomfort that may be caused by muscle strain or poor posture. Here, our Manotick physiotherapists explain what kinds of physical therapy we prescribe to our patients in order to alleviate their pain, reduce their discomfort and improve the mobility of their upper back.
Pain in your upper back is a very common source of discomfort or lessened mobility for many of our patients. This discomfort may show itself in numerous ways, any of which may negatively affect aspects of your life. If not promptly treated by physiotherapists, upper back pain may become an on-and-off lifelong condition for some individuals, causing discomfort and possibly additional injury down the road to muscles that are already strained.
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.
The thoracic spine is the largest portion of your back and contains what we think of as both the mid- and upper-back. Your upper back is characterized by the muscle groups found in it, namely those that 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?
One of the most common causes of support back pain are muscle strains and irritation. The actual cause of these general conditions can widely vary, though. You may have suffered an acute back injury while straining to lift something heavy or twisting your back while carrying something.
You can also develop degenerative upper back pain from small continued strains on your muscles such as by having poor posture.
Regardless of the cause, some of the most common symptoms associated with pain or discomfort in your upper back include: headaches, muscle pain and stiffness anywhere in your back, muscle spasms, bruising and tenderness, and muscle weakness in the upper back.
Physiotherapy Treatments for Upper Back Pain
Our Manotick 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 physical therapy is called this because it's doesn't require a patient themself to take any action in order to receive the treatment.
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 and release your tissues and joints.
When it comes to upper back pain, there are a number of passive treatments that our physiotherapists may determine are suitable for your case. These may include:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 treatments are exercises that are prescribed by your physiotherapists to a client based on what we determine to be the root cause of their pain. These exercises help to encourage mobility, healing and strength in an injured portion of a patients' body, while also encouraging general health and well-being.
The following are some examples of exercises that we may prescribe to our patients at our Manotick physiotherapy centre if they are reporting upper back pain:
Always wait for a physiotherapist's 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!
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.
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.
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.