What causes upper back and shoulder pain?
Back and shoulder pain are very common conditions.
Frequently, back and shoulder pain is the result of posture problems originating from hips and feet not being leveled. You are sitting at a desk for hours, or driving on an extended road trip. You unconsciously raise one of your hips in an awkward position, and the opposite shoulder tenses to compensate. In a short time, you may experience back and shoulder pain.
Sometimes, back and shoulder pain results from heavy lifting. Again, your posture may have been out of line. You strained to lift a heavy piece of furniture in order to shampoo your carpet – and you got back and shoulder pain. Or you carried a sleeping child into the house from your car – and the next day you had back and shoulder pain.
For cyclists, the posture problem may be a result of a bike that does not quite fit the body. You easily found a bike that fit your legs, but the reach to the handlebars was too long. Your back muscles tried to compensate for your bike’s deficiency – and you developed upper back and shoulder pain.
Back and shoulder pain may also be caused by carrying heavy backpacks or a heavy handbag. A child dashes out the door, back bowed under a backpack stuffed with books, homework, lunch, etc. Mom shoulders an over-sized, I’ve-got-everything-I-could-possibly-need handbag as she goes from store to store in the mall. Excessive pressure on the shoulders, or an uneven load, may contribute to back and shoulder pain.
What to tell the doctor
You will likely want to have a doctor’s advice about your back and shoulder pain. He or she will examine you to determine the extent of the injury or stress to your back and shoulders. You will want to ask, too, if the condition will improve quickly or not. Expect the doctor to look for and ask about severe spasms and pains, numbness, tingling, weakness, changes in bowel habits, painful urination, leg pains, and other symptoms that might signal a more sever problem. Be sure to tell the doctor any history of spine problems or back weaknesses if you have any.
Treatment for Back and shoulder pain
With your physician’s approval, you can treat upper back and shoulder pain at home with:
- OTC medication
1. Rest for upper back and shoulder pain
Rest will give your back and shoulders time to relax. Limit your rest to one or two days, though, so muscles do not weaken or become stiff. Avoid lying flat on your back. Rather, choose a comfortable position on your side, knees bent.
2. Heat for upper back and shoulder pain
Heat will keep your muscles flexible and relaxed. Use a heating pad on a low to medium setting. Apply heat for no more than 30 minutes at a time.
3. Cold for upper back and shoulder pain
Cold, such as ice packs or cold compresses, can reduce swelling caused by muscle inflammation. Apply cold every 10 minutes for two hours.
4. Massage for upper back and shoulder pain
Massage will help the muscles relax and reduce your pain. Have someone gently massage the area, or use an electric massager / massage cushion.
5. OTC medication for upper back and shoulder pain
OTC (over-the-counter) medication should be used in conjunction with other treatment if pain is too severe. Be sure to get your doctor’s advice as to what medication is right for you.
6. Exercise for upper back and shoulder pain
Exercise is important in the treatment of all back pain. Check with your doctor first, and then begin regular back pain exercises.
Prevention is worth months of cure, so understand your back and shoulder pain, learn the source of the pain, and take steps to avoid it.