How to Relieve Upper Back Pain
Technology has its downsides. Unfortunately for us, upper back pain is one of them.
A recent report published in The Spine Journal revealed that an increasing number of patients reported of neck and upper back pain associated with smartphone use.
To be clear, it’s not the device that is the culprit; instead, it’s our poor posture as we look down at our phones for hours on end that causes the discomfort.
As a writer, I also experience bouts of upper back pain due to my bad habit of hunching over my computer. Although not debilitating, the stiffness and pain can seriously ruin my productivity.
For some, upper back pain takes on a more sinister form. When my mother suffered a serious fall, for instance, the muscle injury on her upper back made even the simplest acts of laughing, sneezing, or coughing incredibly tricky.
Upper back pain may be relatively less common than lower back pain, but it doesn’t make it less of a concern.
If not properly addressed, it can spread to other muscles of the body – known as “referred pain” – and interfere with your sleep and daily activities.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be helpless in the face of upper back pain. Whereas chronic cases require serious medical attention, upper back pain mostly dissipates after a few days or weeks with the help of the following home remedies.
10 Ways to Relieve Upper Back Pain
1. Take a Rest
Resting on a sofa or bed can ease the pain and prevent re-injury.
To reduce the pressure on your back muscles and other surrounding structures, put a pillow under your head and between your knees when lying on your side, under your hips if lying on your stomach, and under your knees when you’re lying on your back.
Whatever the position you choose, ensure that you only rest for a few hours at a time. Bed rest, if you overdo it, can be counter-effective.
According to Harvard Health, staying in your bed for longer than 1 to 2 days will not only slow down your healing but can also lead to muscle weakness, stiff joints, constipation, blood clots, and mental problems like depression.
Ideally, resume your normal activities as soon as you can, being careful not to twist or bend too much to prevent pain and resting your back when needed.
2. Use Ice Pack or Heating Pad
Most people blindly choose between hot and cold compress when relieving upper back pain.
Both are effective—but only if given at the right time.
A cold compress reduces swelling and pain in muscles following an injury. It can be in the form of a commercially available ice pack or an improvised one made of packed ice wrapped in a towel.
Apply the cold compress on the painful area for 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours for the first 72 hours (3 days). Afterwards, you can switch to moist heat or alternate between hot or cold compress.
The heat reduces pain but also increases blood circulation which boosts the healing process. Interestingly, heat therapy is one of the methods recently recommended by the American College of Physicians in treating acute to subacute back pain.
3. Get Moving
As with lower back pain, exercise, as long as it’s done with doctor’s approval, can also ward off the upper back pain.
The thoracic spine holds your upper back together. This delicate structure is supported by muscles and ligaments which are prone to deconditioning.
Through exercise, you can strengthen these supporting structures and in so doing improve your posture and reduce your risk of back injuries.
Once you’ve determined what activities are safe and suitable for your condition, you can start a regular exercise routine, preferably 15 to 30 minutes a day for at least two to three times a week.
4. Isometric Exercises
These are back strengthening exercises that require you to push against a resistance without actually moving a muscle.
In one example, you place your palm on your forehead and push it forward while keeping your neck steady. The resistance on your neck muscles is what will keep them strong in the long run.
You can repeat the same technique on either side of the head, the muscles of which are directly connected to the upper back. Keep the resistance for 10 seconds before relaxing and do up to 10 repetitions at a time.
5. Aerobic Exercises
The increased blood flow to your body as you do aerobics is beneficial for the spinal disks. They depend on the blood for nourishment, as do the muscles that altogether keep the upper back stable.
A 30-minute exercise on the treadmill or a stationary bike is enough to keep the blood pumping. Just make sure you don’t rush it; doing so will increase the likelihood of re-injury.
Next page: Learn five more ways to relieve upper back pain and when to seek medical help.