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Treating Upper Back Pain With Physiotherapy

Treating Upper Back Pain With Physiotherapy

Upper back pain is an incredibly common source of discomfort that is often caused by muscle strain or bad posture. Here, our Nepean physiotherapists explain what kinds of physical therapy treatment we prescribe to our patients in order to reduce their pain, alleviate discomfort and improve mobility in their upper back.

Pain in the upper back is a very common source of discomfort or reduce mobility for many of our patients. This discomfort can manifest in a number of different ways, all of which can negatively affect many aspects of your life. If not treated by a physiotherapist, upper back pain may become an on-and-off lifelong condition for people, leading to discomfort and potentially further injury down the road to already-strained muscles.

What Makes Up My Upper Back?

Your spine is divided into 3 sections, the cervical, thoracic and lumbar. In order, these describe your neck, upper-to-mid-back and lower back. 

The thoracic spine is the larger portion of your back and encompasses both what we think of as the upper- and mid-back. Your upper back is distinguished by the muscle groups found in it: particularly those that help to move your shoulders, your shoulder blades, your arms and rotate your spine. 

Your upper back works with your mid-back to fulfill important movement along 3 planes: rotation, extension or flexion and side flexion. 

What Are The Causes of Upper Back Pain?

The most common causes of upper back pain are irritation and strain, but the actual cause of these can widely vary. You may have suffered an acute upper back injury by straining to lift something heavy or twisting your back while holding something heavy. 

You can also develop degenerative upper back pain from small continued strains on your muscles such as by having poor posture. 

Regardless of the cause, some of the most common symptoms associated with pain or discomfort in your upper back include: headaches, muscle pain and stiffness anywhere in your back, muscle spasms, bruising and tenderness, and muscle weakness in the upper back.

Physiotherapy Treatments for Upper Back Pain

Our Nepean physiotherapists offer treatment to patients who are suffering from upper back pain using a number of different methods. These methods fall under two large umbrellas: active and passive physical therapies. 

Passive Physiotherapy for Your Upper Back

Passive physiotherapy is so-called because it doesn't require the patient to take any action themselves. Our physiotherapists conduct treatments on their patients during passive physiotherapy in order to help loosen, relax and encourage the healing of muscles to restore strength and mobility. Manual therapy is the most common therapy where the physiotherapist will use their hands and body to mobilize, stretch, release, your tissues and joints. For upper back pain, there are a number of passive treatments our physical therapists might use. These include:

  • Manual Therapy - Our physiotherapists offer a number of massage therapy modalities depending on the root cause of your upper back pain, from Swedish massage to deep tissue to help loosen, relax and restore mobility to seized or spasming muscles.
  • Functional Dry Needling / Acupuncture - Our trained physiotherapists utilize sterilized needles to release trigger points, and encourage the body's natural healing.
  • Hot and Cold Packs - Variably applying heat or cold to affected muscles can help to both increase circulation to injured muscles, or slow things down and help to reduce inflammation.
  • Ultrasound / Modalities - Using ultrasonic waves to manually stimulate affected muscles can help to alleviate cramping, spasming in inflammation in the muscles of your upper back.  Other electrotherapy modalities (TENS, IFC) may be used to relieve pain.

Active Physiotherapy for Your Upper Back

Active physiotherapy treatments are exercises that are specially prescribed by our physiotherapists to a client based on the root cause of their pain. These exercises help to encourage mobility, strength and healing in the injured part of a patient's body, while also encouraging general physical health and well-being. 

The following are some examples of exercises that we may prescribe to our patients at Nepean Sports Medicine & Physiotherapy Centre if they are reporting upper back pain:

Always wait for a physiotherapists' prescription of an exercise before engaging injured, pained, or stiff muscles. If you attempt exercises or activities without consulting your physiotherapist, you may cause yourself further injury and pain!

Overhead Arm Reach

Starting in a sitting or standing position, reach your arms above your head.

Keeping both arms stretched above your head and holding your hand together, lean to the right. If you would like to deepen the stretch, gentle pull on your left hand with your right. 

Repeat this, leaning to the left instead of the right.

Repeat this exercise 10-15 times, alternating which side you lean to each time. 

Foam Roller Thoracic Mobilization

Place a foam roller on the floor, then lay lengthwise on it, from your tailbone to the back of your skull.   Place your arms and hands overhead, at chest level (not over your head).  Then complete following movements:

  • 'T' - open your arms outward to the side, downward toward the floor (do not have to touch the floor, but aim to be in line with your body), forming a 'T' shape (from standing view of you).  Return gently and repeat 10-15 repetitions.  
  • 'Y' - open your arms outward but slightly toward your head as you lower toward to floor (do not have to touch, but aim to be in line with your body), forming a 'Y' shape (from above view).  Return gently and repeat 10-15 repetitions.
These movements help oppose the minutes/hours spent seated at a computer, helping to open your chest, and mobilize/move your upper back spinal joints & tissues!

Cat-Cow Pose

Start on all fours and make sure your hands are beneath your shoulders and your knees are beneath your hips. 

Cat Pose - Exhale and round your mid-back, lifting your ribs up to the sky and letting your head and neck relax.

Cow Pose - Inhale and lift your head and chest forward while sinking your stomach towards the floor.

Transition from one of these poses to the other 10-15 times.

Are your feeling pain and discomfort in your upper back?

Our team of Nepean physiotherapists are here to help you recover.

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Welcome to the Nepean Sports Medicine & Physiotherapy Centre blog, where we provide lots of helpful tips, news, information and advice about physiotherapy and massage treatments, as well as general health and wellness, in Nepean and Ottawa.

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