The upper back is a section of 12 vertebrae, where the rib cage connects to the spine. Upper back pain can be a common problem for a few reasons, a lot of which have to do with our lifestyle. Because we spend a lot of time sitting, we can put extra strain on the upper back as well as create postural problems. This, combined with lack of exercise which weakens the muscles in the upper back, can lead to upper back pain. Also, many of us carry tension in the shoulders, neck, and upper back, leading to further pain. The spine is a connected unit, so problems in the neck or lower back can lead to pain in the upper back as well.
The two most common causes of upper back pain are muscular pain and joint disorders. Muscular pain can develop easily in the large upper back muscles, either due to lack of strength, or injury from overuse through sports, work, or repetitive use. Joint dysfunctions can also lead to upper back pain. Because the vertebrae in the upper back are connected both to each other and to the ribs, there is more possibility for problems. Problems can arise where the ribs connect to the vertebrae, such as with a rib fracture or a rib that shifts out of place.
Less common causes of upper back pain include Sheurmann’s disease (adolescent kyphosis) and ankylosing spondylitis. With kyphosis, there is a disturbance in the growth of the thoracic vertebrae in adolescence, leading to misshapen, wedge-shaped vertebrae that cause the spine to be curved forward. Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammation of the spine that results in a progressive ossification or fusing of the spine. Scoliosis, a condition where the spine curves to the side, can also cause upper back pain.
In the treatment of upper back pain, exercise and postural correction are very important. Acupuncture can also help in the healing process, by helping to relieve pain, inflammation, and stiffness and strengthen the area. By looking at what is causing the pain, we can determine how to correct the problem. Is it due to trauma, whether through an injury or over time through poor posture or repetitive stress? Is it due to our external environment such as too much exposure to cold, heat, damp, or wind? Or is it due to an underlying internal imbalance that is weakening the musculo-skeletal tissues?
In understanding what’s at the root of the problem, we can tailor acupuncture treatment in order to resolve it. While working very well for dealing with the pain and inflammation of upper back pain, acupuncture can also help to strengthen the upper back and to correct internal imbalances that may be contributing to weakness or pain or hampering proper healing. Acupuncture reconnects the interrupted energy flow and corrects imbalances so that the body can better go about its healing, making acupuncture an excellent form of treatment for problems of the upper back.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.