The Causes of Neck and Upper Back Pain

Most neck and upper back pain are caused by a combination of factors, including injury, poor posture, chiropractic subluxations, stress, and in some instances, disc problems. Back pain can also be a direct result of multiple muscle groups that have been strained or overworked. If you’re experiencing back pain, see below for tips and solutions.

Injuries

By far, the most common injury to the back is due to a fall, lifting something heavy, sitting or standing in a position for too long, or an active injury.  Whether from a car accident, sports, or an accident at work, all back injuries need to be taken very seriously. Why? Because some symptoms of an injury can take weeks or months to manifest and it is easy to be fooled into thinking that you are not as injured as you really are.

IF INJURED, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY. Too often people don’t seek treatment following a car accident or sports injury because they don’t feel hurt. Unfortunately, by the time more serious complications develop, some of the damage from the injury may have become permanent.

Numerous studies have shown that years after car accident victims settle their insurance claims, roughly half of them state that they still suffer from symptoms from their back injuries. If you have been in a motor vehicle or any other kind of accident, don’t assume that you escaped injury if you are not currently in pain. Seek medical help immediately if you have been in an accident. 

Poor Posture

One of the most common causes of neck and back pain, and sometimes headaches, is poor posture.

It’s easy to get into bad posture habits without even realizing it – even an activity as “innocent” as reading in bed can ultimately lead to pain, headaches, and more serious problems. The basic rule is simple: keep your back and neck in a “neutral” position whenever possible.

Don’t bend or hunch your neck forward for long periods. Also, try not to sit in one position for a long time. If you must sit for an extended period, make sure your posture is good: Keep your head in a neutral position, make sure your back is supported, keep your knees slightly lower than your hips, and rest your arms if possible.

PRO TIP: If you work a desk job, try standing up for a few minutes every hour. Go for a short walk on your breaks. Don’t sit for longer than an hour without moving.

Forward Head Posture

This is known as FHP – forward head posture – and is very common for people who have stooped over their computers all day long. FHP is also known as a subluxation or misalignment of the spine or neck due to improper use or posture.

Subluxations in the neck and upper back area are extremely common due to the high degree of stress associated with holding up your head, coupled with the high degree of instability in the cervical spine.

Most subluxations tend to be centered around four areas: the top of the cervical spine where it meets the skull; in the middle of the cervical spine where the mechanical stress from the head is the greatest; in the transition where the cervical and thoracic areas of the spine meet; and in the middle of the thoracic spine where the mechanical stress from the weight of the upper body is greatest.

Signs of subluxation include looking in the mirror and seeing your head tilted or one shoulder higher than the other. Often women will notice that their sleeve length is different or that a necklace is hanging off-center. If someone looks at you from the side they may notice that your head sits forward from your shoulders.  Subluxations are a debt to the body. If they are not taken care of soon after they occur, then they can get much worse over time due to the accumulation of compounding interest.

Stress

When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract their muscles, especially the muscles in their back.

This ‘muscle guarding’ is a survival response designed to guard against injury. In today’s world where we are not exposed to physical danger most of the time, muscle guarding still occurs whenever we become emotionally stressed. The areas most affected are the muscles of the neck, upper back, and low back. For most of us, the particular muscle affected by stress is the trapezius muscle, where daily stress usually leads to chronic tightness and the development of trigger points.

PRO TIP: The two most effective ways you can reduce the physical effects of stress on your own are to increase your activity level – exercise – and by deep breathing exercises. When you decrease the physical effects of stress, you can substantially reduce the amount of tightness and pain in your upper back and neck.

Bulging Disc or Stress Factures

Discs are the spongy cushions that separate the vertebrae of the spine.  They operate somewhat like shock absorbers. Discs in your cervical spine can herniate or bulge and put pressure on the nerves that exit from the spine through that area. If too much pressure is put on the spine, sometimes the discs may crack and cause stress fracturing. Although cervical discs do not herniate nearly as often as lumbar discs do, they occasionally can herniate, especially when the discs sustain damage from a violent injury.

How do you know if you have disc problems? 

Disc problems are usually a direct result of injury, obesity, advancing age, lack of exercise, and incorrect lifting techniques. Herniated discs are most common in men and women from the age of 30-50 years old. People who exercise and stretch often are much less likely to suffer from disc problems than sedentary adults.

You will know if you have disc problems if: you feel numbness or tingling in your back or other parts of your body if you feel intense pain in your buttocks, if you feel intense pain in your shoulders, legs or arms, and if your muscles easily give out and feel weak.

Sciatica, Stenosis, and Osteoarthritis

Over time, the body is known to break down in it’s weakest spots. Sometimes this is from past injuries, in other cases, the joints or spine might be subject to arthritis or nerve problems such as sciatica.

Stenosis is the narrowing of the spaces within the spine and is a common cause of back pain.

Sciatica is a when the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the back of each leg, becomes stressed and pinched. This causes extreme pain in the hip, buttocks, and legs.

Osteoarthritis is when the protective cartilage that cushions your bones wears down over time.

Get Help From A Tulsa Chiropractor

As mentioned above, if you have experienced an injury, high amounts of stress,  uncontrollable pain, poor posture, or you’re afraid you may be experiencing disc problems, seek medical help immediately. Fill out the form below to get scheduled and to see our chiropractic team!

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