Understanding Upper Back And Neck Pain

Millions of people suffer from pain in the lumbar region of the back as lower back pain is the most common type of back pain. But what about pain in the neck and upper back? In fact there are plenty of patients who suffer mild to severe pain in the neck and upper back, but this type of pain generally gets less press than the more common lower back pain.

One of the problems with identifying upper back and neck pain is that many who suffer from it tend to chalk it up to stiffness in the shoulders, neck and upper back region. If upper back and neck pain are left undiagnosed and untreated, it can have just as devastating results as lower back pain. If left untreated neck mobility can become severely limited, making it difficult to move the neck. 


The muscles in the shoulder and neck are irretrievably connected to the back muscles, which means that a trauma or injury to one may cause pain in the other areas. The injuries to the lower back are not always confined to the lower back, but tend to spread particularly if left untreated for a long period of time. The changes in posture or gait that we use to minimize lower back pain may cause to travel up to the neck and upper back.

The back, neck and shoulders are interconnected so many lower back problems cause upper back pain and in some cases, neck pain as well. Diagnosing problems in the upper back and neck are difficult because the source can be in another region of the body altogether.

In some instances, direct trauma or injury to the neck or upper back—such as whiplash—is the source of the pain. The neck acts as a shock absorber against basic movements made by the head and body, which is a lot of movements throughout each day. Athletes such as football and soccer players may suffer upper back and neck pain due to repeated hits to the upper body.

In most instances however, the causes for neck pain and upper back pain are far more benign. Office equipment such as chairs, desks, keyboards and computer mouse are often very uniform and not made for comfort. But the truth is that comfortable office equipment does not misshape your spinal column and over-extend your reach, which can lead to pain in the neck and the entire back.

That soft fluffy pillow you love to curl up with at the end of a long day may be the culprit for your neck and upper back pain. While you may find a soft pillow helps you drift off to sleep, soft pillows don’t provide enough support for the neck and can cause the spine to become misaligned from the normal ‘S’ curve. A medium to firm pillow is ideal to prevent neck pain.

How To Treat It

There are many different ways to treat neck and upper back pain, but before you can get to the treatment phase you must figure out the cause of the pain. The source of the pain is important in formulating a treatment plan because treatment for spinal alignment may be different than for a pulled or sprained muscle. While a spinal cause may need a chiropractic treatment, a muscle or joint cause may require physical therapy.

Common back pain treatments work effectively for neck and upper back pain provided that the cause has been identified. Traditional treatments such as pain medication, anti-inflammatory medicine and hot/cold therapy have proven effective in the short-term. Then there are treatments such as physical therapy, chiropractic medicine and massage therapy that can provide pain relief and muscle relaxation.

Alternative pain treatments such as acupuncture, acupressure or herbal pain treatments work well to treat the symptoms—and sometimes the underlying problems—of neck and upper back pain.

If you suffer from neck or upper back pain for more than several weeks, make an appointment to see your physician right away. 

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Filed Under: Neck Pain
Written By:  Updated:
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Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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