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Upper Back

What is upper back pain?

Upper back pain relates to any discomfort that you might feel in the region between your neck and your lower back. In a lot of cases, the discomfort will be near or around the shoulder blade area.

The upper back region is also called the thoracic spine but for this information guide, we will use the name upper back pain for simplicity.

Why does my upper back hurt? 

Upper back pain is the least common form of spinal pain but it still affects a number of people. The most likely causes include muscle and joint issues.

Saying exactly what is causing or contributing to your pain is often very difficult, however most issues are nothing sinister (or nasty) and will get better by themselves with time and some gentle exercises.

Will I get better?

It can often feel quite worrying when you have a problem that gets in the way of things that you want to do/would normally find easy, however, most aches and pains (including those in the upper back) will get better by themselves with time.

What can I do to help myself? 

Good question!

By reading some of the information about upper back issues, you will learn that in most cases, the issue is nothing nasty and although it is sore, you are safe.

Exploring some gentle exercises to help your upper back get moving and your muscles get stronger can often help move things forwards. We have provided a number of exercises at the bottom of the page for you to explore and start your recovery.

What else can I do?                          

Sometimes, calming the issue down is the first step you should take on your road to recovery. Identifying what your upper back finds most challenging and uncomfortable and making some changes to those tasks or jobs, can be really useful in regaining some control. For example, if sitting for a long time makes your back sore, try taking more regular breaks; if lifting shopping bags hurts, then try spreading the weight over more bags so the weight is less.

We have a page dedicated to helping you calm down your aches and pains that can be found here: Load Management

Once the issue is a little calmer, you may want to explore the exercises we have provided below.

What about an X-ray or scan? 

Having an X-ray or scan is not always needed to work out why your upper back might be sore or what is best to help it recover. As you may expect, there are some situations where your physio or GP may want to explore the option of an X-ray etc. but it is not usually necessary.

Is there anything I should look out for? 

Given that upper back pain, albeit not rare, is the least common place to get back issues, there are some situations where it might be sensible to seek further medical help:

• If you have had trauma (a fall or an injury) that started your upper back pain

• If you have osteoporosis and your upper back pain seemed to start quite suddenly

• If you feel generally unwell, have a fever or have lost weight for no obvious reason

How long should I try the exercises and ‘calming it down’ advice?

Although it is virtually impossible to tell you when you will feel better, it is hoped that if you have really tried to make changes to calm things down and have been really committed when completing the exercises, you should notice some form of positive change within 6 weeks. A positive response doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel completely better, but it means your symptoms have changed in a good way and therefore we would encourage you to continue with what you’re doing for a bit longer.

If you’ve done all of the above and feel absolutely no change in your symptoms, please feel free to refer yourself to our MSK physiotherapy service, where we will hopefully be in a position to help you with your recovery.

Refer yourself here: Refer Yourself

Exercise tip:

For the movement exercises, aim to try and complete these little and often throughout the day.

For the strengthening exercises, aim to complete the exercises (as many or as few as you want to) about 3 to 4 times a week.

Each exercise should be completed between 8-12 times (or repetitions) for 3 to 4 sets. Make sure you have about 1 minute's rest in between each set.

In order to change your muscles, you need to challenge them. In other words, you should really feel the effort with each set of exercises and should not really be able to do more than 12 each time around.

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