woman with upper back pain

Upper Back Pain and What Can Be Done to Relieve It

Though not nearly as common a complaint as lower back pain, upper back pain, often felt across the shoulder blades, is a source of ongoing distress to many of our patients. As physiatrists, whose medical specialties are nonsurgical pain relief and restoration of function, the doctors at Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine are well-prepared to diagnose and treat all upper back pain that results from musculoskeletal causes. 

Common Causes of Upper Back Pain

In many cases, our patients themselves have unwittingly caused their own discomfort by:

  • Using poor posture
  • Using improper lifting techniques
  • Overusing certain muscles

Months of regularly slouching over your computer or bending over to lift heavy boxes of tools or office supplies may have caught up with you. Or you may have strained your upper back muscles by reaching overhead for an extended period to paint the ceiling or hang a high shelf. You may also have developed “text neck” a common modern injury that results from constantly looking down to send and read text messages. In any of these cases, we have to diagnose the damage you have done in order to treat you effectively.

Traumatic injuries can also cause serious upper back pain that requires urgent care.

If you have been involved in a traffic accident (whiplash often causes upper back pain), fallen from a height, or experienced a blow or collision during a sports activity, you may have injured thoracic vertebrae, discs, muscles, ligaments, tendons, or nerves.

Why is an injury to the upper back generally less serious than an injury to the lower back?

Because the thoracic spine is connected to your ribs and sternum, it is the most rigid and stable portion of the spine and less prone to injury. This is why upper back pain is much more frequently the result of damage to the muscle or nerve tissue than to vertebral injury.

Symptoms of Upper Back Injury 

In most cases, upper back problems present with:

  • Pain
  • Tightness
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty and pain when turning the torso
  • Limited range of motion
  • Tenderness to touch

In many cases, upper back pain may be chronic, disturbing but not intense. If it is excruciating, however, patients should see the doctor immediately, as it is possible that a bone has been broken or that something more serious is occurring. Upper back pain may be exacerbated by:

  • Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
  • Inflammatory conditions (e.g. ankylosing spondylitis)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Bone cancer or other malignancies

Although the most common upper back injuries are sprains (involving ligaments) and strains (involving tendons), a responsible doctor must always rule out other organic causes which may include systemic or localized infection or even gallbladder disease.

Diagnosing Upper Back Pain

Once our doctors have ruled out systemic causes of your upper back pain, usually through blood tests, we have a full array of diagnostic equipment to help us get to the root cause of your problem, including:

  • X-rays
  • CT and MRI scans
  • Ultrasound imaging and ultrasound guidance of injections
  • Bone density tests
  • EMG (electromyography), the study of the nerves
  • Diagnostic injections to locate the precise site of origin
  • Discography

Once our doctors have diagnosed the cause of your upper back pain, we will determine which of our treatments will provide the most rapid, effective relief for your pain and restricted mobility.

Nonsurgical Treatment Options for Upper Back Pain at L.I. Spine Rehabilitation Medicine

Our doctors are well aware that patients do not always have the same responses, physically or psychologically, to the same treatments. For this reason, we always remain open-minded and work with you to decide on the most suitable treatment options in your particular case. Our successful treatments, often used in combination, are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy to restore muscle strength and range of motion
  • Ultrasound-guided injections to relieve pain and inflammation at the source
  • PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field) technology which, in addition to treating pain and inflammation, increases blood flow to your cells to promote more rapid healing

We have an excellent record of providing patients, even those who have challenging conditions, with treatments that bring them pain relief, restored movement, and a general sense of well-being. Contact us soon so we can begin to bring you back to health and renewed vitality.