Mechanical Back Pain

The upper and mid back is made up of 12 bones (vertebrae) stacked one above the other, and is called the thoracic spine. It extends from the base of your neck to the level of your lowest rib. This region has less mobility than the neck and lower back, so pain is less common.

Causes of upper and mid back pain include:

  • Poor posture
  • Strain or injury of the supporting muscles or ligaments
  • Fracture of vertebrae
  • Wear (arthritis) or damage to the spongy discs (cartilage) present between two vertebrae
  • Myofascial pain that affects the connective tissue surrounding muscles
  • Rarely cancer, infection and gallbladder disease

Upper and mid back pain can be experienced as a dull, sharp, burning pain associated with muscle stiffness. Weakness, numbness or tingling sensation in your arms and legs, or loss of bowel and bladder control may also be present, and require immediate attention.

To identify the source and severity of your pain, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical examination. Imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI may be ordered to identify fractures, herniated discs or other pathology.

Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter pain medication for cases of mild to moderate pain. Heat and ice application, massage, spinal manipulation may also be performed. For more severe cases, prescription pain medication including antidepressants, muscle relaxants or narcotics may be recommended. Spinal injections are administered for cases of extreme pain. Surgery is rarely necessary. Physical therapy is recommended to strengthen the back and prevent recurrences.

Preventing Back Pain at Work and Home

The back is subject to wear and tear from daily activities and stresses. Pain may vary in severity and duration. Although the natural degenerative processes that take place with aging cannot be avoided, precautions can be taken at home and your workplace to minimize its impact. A healthy lifestyle with good habits such as regular exercise, adequate sleep, good posture, a diet adequately supplemented with calcium and vitamin D, and avoiding weight gain, smoking and stress can go a long way in keeping the back healthy.

At home

When lifting objects try to bend at the knees instead of the waist and let your legs do the lifting, not your back. Keep the object close to your body. Know your limits and get help if you feel it is too heavy. The way you sleep can also affect the health of your back. Use a firm mattress, check for wear-and-tear and change it regularly. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.

At work

Repetitive motions may result in back pain. It is necessary to take short breaks while at work. Tools and equipment should be easily accessible and adjusted to your body. Sitting puts more stress on the back than standing, so adjust your chair so that your feet are on the floor with your knees and hips at the same level. Your lower back must be adequately supported. Change your position once in a while. Avoid slouching. If you use a keyboard, place it at the level of your elbows with your forearms parallel to the ground.

Stress can create tension in the back. Avoid stress by planning ahead, knowing your priorities and using relaxation techniques.

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