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Upper Back Pain

Spinal Anatomy

Half of all working U.S residents report experiencing back pain in the course of any given year. Additionally, back pain is a leading cause of absenteeism and loss of work. Though lower back pain is more common than pain in the upper back, both kinds of pain can cause psychological stress and life quality degradation.

Herniated discs are among the most common and painful sources of back pain. Dealing with a herniated disc is typically an involved and excruciating process. Fortunately, most patients suffering from this ailment work with sensitive and caring health professionals. Disc herniation occurs when a spinal disc is torn, allowing the disc’s soft inside to bulge out in an unnatural way. Though herniated discs are often called “slipped discs,” this term isn’t wholly accurate.
In the popular consciousness, the herniated disc is typically associated with lower back pain. However, herniation can cause a wide variety of problematic symptoms. Patients can experience neck and upper back pain that ranges from mild to devastatingly severe. Sufferers may also notice painful sensations in their legs, knees and feet. Generally, disc herniation is typified by continuous pain, not pain that comes and goes with time.  Vertebral compression fractures may also cause mid and upper back pain as can motor vehicle accidents.

Spinal stenosis is another condition that can cause excruciating upper back issues. Involving an unhealthy narrowing of the spinal canal, this ailment can affect any part of the human spinal region. Intense pain is commonly reported, along with numbness and loss of motor functionality. Most often, spinal stenosis occurs in the lower region of the back. However, thoracic stenosis can certainly affect higher regions. Weakness, fever and weight loss are also sometimes reported symptoms of this painful condition.
Spinal Column
Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is one medical condition directly associated with upper back distress. A fairly broad grouping of related problems, TOS can be caused by the swelling, compression or fixation of various bones and muscles. These include ribs and the collarbone. In some cases, TOS is associated with lung cancer. Most commonly, TOS is related to repetitive strain, sports injuries or traumatic accidents.

Though less common than many other sources of back pain, post-herpetic neuralgia is nerve disorder that can cause daunting levels of pain and discomfort. The disorder stems from the action of the varicella zoster virus. This virus typically causes herpes zoster or shingles, a painful condition in its own right. Whether or not patients experience shingles, it can be a struggle to treat post-herpetic neuralgia symptoms. When this condition affects the upper back, the resultant pain is often particularly intense. Applying lidocaine or capsaicin to the affected area can provide some relief. Antidepressants and anticonvulsants can also help in some cases. However, medical science is still struggling to develop consistently successful cures for this condition. Thoracic epidural steroid injections may provide relief.  Recently, doctors have experimented by treating this disorder with TENS units through physical therapy.

All too often, minimizing and overcoming upper back pain is a long and involved process. Keeping a healthy weight and using good posture is a good place to start. Sensible, low-heeled shoes can help encourage better posture for men and women alike. Since modern people spend much of their lives working, it is particularly important to ensure ergonomic posture in the workplace. Many people don’t realize that quitting smoking can minimize back pain. An impairment to natural blood flow, smoking can gradually lead to degeneration of the spinal tissues. People with upper back pain should work with qualified, respected doctors and health professionals. While opiod medications can provide temporary pain relief, long-term opiod usage can lead to a number of unacceptable side effects. Instead of simply relying on opiods, people with upper back pain should proactively address pain with a multifaceted variety of therapeutic tools.