Upper Back/Neck Pain
The spinal cord, runs through a space in the vertebral foramen, and is responsible for sending nerve impulses to different parts of the body. Between each pair of cervical vertebrae, you'll find nerve roots that branch from the spinal cord and control motor and sensory abilities for various parts of the body. This means that if your arm is hurting, it may actually be a problem originating in the neck, rather than the shoulder. Symptoms in the arm and hand may include; numbness, tingling, cold, aching, and/or a “pins and needles” sensation.
These symptoms, at times, can be confused with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition in the hands that is often found in people who work at computer keyboards or perform other repetitive motion tasks for extended periods of time.
Problems in the neck can also contribute to headaches, muscle spasms in the shoulders and upper back, ringing in the ears, otitis media (inflammation in the middle ear, often mistaken for an ear infection in children), temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), restricted range of motion and chronic tightness in the neck and upper back.
We associate the neck and upper back together, because most of the muscles that are associated with the neck either attach to, or are located in, the upper back.
The Causes of Neck and Upper Back Pain
Most neck and upper back pain is caused by a combination of factors, including injury, poor posture, chiropractic subluxations, stress, and in some instances, disc problems.
By far, the most common injury to the neck is a whiplash injury. Whiplash is caused by a sudden movement of the head, either backward, forward, or sideways, that results in the damage to the supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back. Whether from a car accident, sports, or an accident at work, whiplash injuries need to be taken very seriously. Because symptoms of a whiplash injury can take weeks or months to manifest. Most 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 whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, roughly half of them, state that they still suffer with symptoms from their 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.
One of the most common causes of neck 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 neck in a “neutral” position whenever possible, Don’t bend your neck forward for long periods, and try not to sit in one position for an extended period of time. If this is not feasible, due to the nature of your job, make sure you are practicing good posture strategies by making sure your back is well supported, knees slightly lower than your hips, and rest your arms in a comfortable position.
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. 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. This is known as FHP – forward head posture, and is very common for people who are stooped over their computers all day long. 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.
When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract their muscles. In particular, 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.
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 incorporating 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.