3 Common Causes of Upper Back Pain and How to Prevent Them

1) Posture

It’s well-known that poor posture can lead to neck and upper back pain. Everyone has had that moment when they go to sit straight up and realize they’ve been sitting like the hunchback of Notre Dame for the past hour. To prevent this chronic slouching and forward head carriage state, one easy trick is to perform a quick exercise known as Bruegger’s postural position (seen below). All you have to do is sit with a neutral spine (not hyperextended), retract your head (give yourself a double chin), and slowly rotate your palms to face forward while squeezing your shoulder blades together. The goal is to perform this exercise as micro-breaks, 2 sets of 30sec holds, as many times throughout the day as you can!

Bruegger's position

2) Sleep Position

If you notice that your pain is usually present upon waking up, then it can be the way you’re sleeping that’s causing your pain. Try these quick tips for a pain-free night’s rest!

1. Avoid Sleeping On Your Stomach: When you sleep on your stomach your head is going to be rotated in one direction, causing one side of neck muscles to be contracted and the other side stretched for hours on end.

2. Maintain A Neutral Spine: When sleeping on your side or back try to focus on maintaining the body’s natural curves instead of allowing certain areas to flex and/or rotate (see picture below).

-For side-sleepers, try placing a pillow between your knees as well as part of another pillow below your neck.

-For back-sleeping, try a small pillow below your knees as well as a pillow below the neck as well.

Sleeping positions

3. Check Your Sleeping Equipment: For extra help with neck pain, it’s worth trying pillows designed to alleviate it. Try a cervical support pillow for your neck, like this one HERE! It’s also a good idea to reflect on your mattress. They typically need to be replaced every 6-8 years, and if yours is old or you notice that you ALWAYS wake up in pain, it can be a worthwhile purchase to update it. Many patients (including myself) have had great success with Lull. It’s much cheaper than most brands and is super easy to assemble.

Tri-Core Cervical Support PillowLull Mattress








3) Inactivity

Inactivity is one of the worst things you can do to your body. Sedentary lifestyles cause a wide range of conditions, with upper back pain being one of them. Disuse can cause a loss of range-of-motion, stiffness, and weakened muscles. The phrase “use it or lose it” applies greatly to musculoskeletal health! To prevent this, try and add in some light soft tissue work, such as using a foam roller, massage gun, a massage ball, or the peanut over tight areas. And most importantly, make sure you maintain a daily exercise program. It doesn’t have to be a crazy total-body destroyer, but anything that’s going to move your joints through a full range of motion. These sample exercises below are great examples of simple and effective motions that can help prevent upper back pain. In order from left to right: cat-camel, prone extension, and child’s pose.

Cat Camel Child's poseProne extensions





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Written by Dr. Brandon Buchla, DC, CSCS

Check us out at www.atpplusct.com

5 thoughts on “3 Common Causes of Upper Back Pain and How to Prevent Them”

  1. It still beats me how an activity is able to cause back pain. I think most likely it has to do with office workers sit in their chairs.
    if you sit in the wrong posture of a long time you are sure to experience back pain.
    I don’t think anyone wants to live with pain longer than necessary without any solution. So I think you did a great job with your post

  2. For me, I do a lot of sitting so the posture bit is one I really can relate to. I am very guilty of sitting hunched over for some good periods of time, I just forget I’m doing it! I might have to see about doing the exercise you mentioned a few times a day to see how it helps my back. If it gets worse, then I’ll for sure seek out professional help.

  3. You got me when you said that it’s best to maintain a daily exercise program to make sure that you can do motions that can help you to prevent upper back pain. My mother has been complaining about back pains for the past months. She has been working in an office setting for decades, and there have been times when she needs to work over time. She wanted to be able to move without worrying about back pains, so I’ll be sure to find her a professional that can treat her. I will also make her remember all your tips.

  4. The Upright Go is a small posture corrector that attaches to your back and sends vibration reminders whenever you slouch or lose posture. While connected to the application, it provides a real-time feedback,training program, and statistics to gradually improve your posture and your back health and a push to your sense of confidence along with it.

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