It does not matter if it is sudden and severe or chronic and achy -- upper back pain can put a crimp on your daily activities. However, upper back injuries are usually short-lived and the result of a definable problem such as poor posture or a sports injury. People with long-term weight problems and smokers more commonly have chronic back issues. You are not alone in your suffering; back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the U.S.
See your doctor to obtain clearance to exercise regardless if this is a new or chronic condition. Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays or an MRI, might help locate the source of the pain if it is not clearly definable. If you suffer a disc herniation in your upper back, exercising without medical clearance can make the condition worse.
Avoid activities such as contact sports that might re-injure your healing tissue. If the site is re-injured, you run the risk of turning an acute problem into a chronic one with repeated injuries. Until you are fully healed, which can only be determined by your doctor and your pain status, you might need to enjoy gentle aerobic activities such as walking, swimming or riding a bike.
Stretch your upper back muscles daily, but stop if you encounter pain during a stretch and try a different one. The butterfly stretch can be completed sitting in your office chair and will get the blood flowing to the injured upper back. Place your palms on your shoulders and slowly bring your elbows together in front of your body. Hold the position for a breath or two and slowly release. Repeat this for 10 to 15 repetitions or as tolerated.
Begin strength-training in your upper back to decrease the incidence of future injuries. Hold dumbbells or soup cans in both hands while seated on the edge of your chair with your back straight. Slowly lift your arms in front of your body until your upper arms are level with your shoulders. Hold this position for one or two seconds, then slowly return to your beginning position. Repeat for 10 or 15 repetitions or as tolerated to strengthen the muscles in the upper back.
Eat and drink the vitamins responsible for helping to heal bones and muscles, namely vitamin C, calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that assists in healing damaged tissues, such as your tendons and ligaments. It also plays a role in collagen production, which is used to heal and support tissues. Vitamin D and calcium have a synergistic effect -- you can' t use one without the other. Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and cow's milk or fortified grains are excellent sources of vitamin D and calcium.
Headaches are a common by-product of upper back and neck injuries. Use over-the-counter anti-inflammatories to help dull this pain so you can work on fixing the cause of it.
If pain is getting worse or numbness develops, stop your exercise program and contact your physician.