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A Torn Muscle in the Upper Back

author image Nancy Clarke
Nancy Clarke began writing in 1988 after achieving her Bachelor of Arts in English and has edited books on medicine, diet, senior care and other health topics. Her related affiliations include work for the American Medical Association and Oregon Health Plan.
A Torn Muscle in the Upper Back
A Torn Muscle in the Upper Back Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The muscles of the upper back can be stretched, twisted and torn during a sports or accidental injury. Damage to muscles such as the rhomboid major, rhomboid minor and trapezius, which help to support the spine and shoulders, can cause extreme back pain and disability.

Doctors may prescribe home care and exercise rehab for patients with moderate upper back strains. Torn muscles with bone, ligament, tendon or nerve complications will require further treatment and possibly surgery.


During awkward or stressful movements, the fibers of muscle tissue can pull apart. As the NYU Langone Medical Center reports, complete separations result in torn muscles, which degrade physical strength. An automatic inflammatory response increases pressure on the upper back, causing pain and impeding mobility. Treatments for these severe back strains must ease the effects of inflammation and encourage cellular regeneration in the muscle tissue.


Torn muscles cannot be distinguished from lesser back strains without medical testing. Doctors will examine patients to determine which upper back muscle has sustained damage and whether other body parts may be involved.

Bone fractures, dislocations and joint inflammations in the rotator cuff, for example, will need more comprehensive diagnoses. The University of Buffalo Sports Medicine group reports that imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs and CT scans will aid in identifying the extent of the injury.


Upper back strains that affect only one or more muscles will present acute back pain, warmth and swelling. Patients may feel a popping or burning at the moment that the muscle gives way.

Afterward, the NYU Langone Medical center notes that it will hurt more when patients try to move the affected area, which may show bruising from internal bleeding. The muscle will be weak, but should not lose total mobility.


The UB Sports Medicine group recommends aggressive first aid treatment for torn muscles for the first two to three days after injury. Rest and restricted activity will direct cellular energy toward healing.

Patients should take medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen for back pain, as well as applying ice packs at three-hour intervals to reduce swelling. As acute symptoms decrease, patients can gradually begin stretching, exercising and, eventually, resuming regular and sports activity.

Time Frame

Back pain should begin to fade within 48 hours, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Then patients can begin stretching within their ranges of motion. If pain does not increase, rehabilitative exercise should begin, which may last for several weeks.

If muscles need surgical repair, doctors will adjust this time frame. Depending on the patient's fitness levels and the extent of muscle tears, complete recovery may take between two and 12 months.

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