STUCK IN THE middle
UPPER SPINE DISCOMFORT, CAUSES AND TREATMENT
BY DAVID BUICE
Back pain is a common cause for people missing work or school and suffering disabilities worldwide.
While pain in the lower back is the more common culprit, upper and middle back pain can be an issue because the bones there don’t flex and move as much as those in the neck and lower back.
UPPER AND MIDDLE BACK STRUCTURE
The upper and middle back, known as the thoracic spine, extends from the base of your neck to the bottom of the rib cage. It’s primarily composed of 12 vertebrae attached to the rib cage, along with spongy discs lying between the vertebrae that absorb shock as you move.
SOURCES OF UPPER BACK PAIN
Pain occurring in this area of the body may be caused by the following:
Muscle deconditioning and poor posture – While our muscles can be conditioned and strengthened through exercise, the opposite is also true. You can decondition muscles by not using them properly. One common source of muscle deconditioning and pain is slouching in a chair over a desk for prolonged periods, weakening muscles in the upper back.
Muscle overuse – This often occurs because of repetitious movement over a period of time, leading to muscle strain, tightness, and irritation.
Injury – Traumatic injury from things like a car accident, slipping and falling, lifting incorrectly, or even working out too hard can bring on upper back pain.
Herniated disc – While more common in the lower back, herniated discs may happen in the upper back as well. A spinal disc has a soft, jellylike nucleus surrounded by a rubbery exterior. A herniated disc occurs when some of the nucleus breaks through the disc’s exterior, irritating a nearby nerve. This irritation can lead to pain, numbness, or weakness in an arm or leg.
Osteoarthritis – This occurs when the cartilage that cushions and protects the bones wears down through aging, causing bones to rub together, triggering pain.
Myofascial pain – Pain in the upper back can also be caused by problems in the connective tissue of the back, what doctors call the fascia. This pain can start after an injury or overuse, and for reasons not fully understood, chronic myofascial pain may continue long after the initial injury.
In addition to these common causes, upper back pain, in rare cases, may be caused by conditions such as lung cancer, gallbladder disease, or a spinal infection.
The good news in all this is that in many cases, though not all, upper and middle back pain can be managed at home through a combination of rest, over-the-counter pain medications, the application of heat and ice, and exercises to strengthen back and stomach muscles.
However, you should seek immediate medical attention if the pain is chronic, accompanied by a fever, occurs after a serious accident or sports injury, or if you lose control of your bladder or bowels.