MB Massage Therapy

Upper back pain,  and the muscles that support the work of the upper back

Have you ever found yourself in pain or discomfort, needing to rest your head after a long

day? If the answer is yes, you might have experienced upper back pain.

You are reading this information therefore it is not a wild guess to say you are probably doing so

from a digital device. Technology has undeniably improved our lives in many ways but there are some sore points about its pervasive presence in our lives. One of them is upper back pain.

According to the occupational medicine journal, upper back pain is mainly an occupational health issue affecting prevalently the workforce. The number of people in the USA suffering from upper back pain is on the rise.

Here we will explore the main symptoms and causes of upper back pain. We will also discuss some techniques to improve or avoid this nagging problem.

What is the upper back exactly?

The upper back is the region of the back going from the first thoracic vertebrae T1 to T12, the last one. For reference, all ribs bones are attached to those vertebrae.

An important function of the thoracic spine is to maintain posture and structure when we are moving around and allow movement.

The spine is helped in that function by several muscles. For instance, back muscles help you sit down and get up, breathe and move your head in all directions.

There are several ways to anatomically look at those muscles, but one practical

way to approach them could be by considering their role:

  • Muscles that move the head: four sets of muscles help move the head. They are the sternocleidomastoid, semispinalis capitis, splenius capitis, and longissimus capitis muscles. A stiff neck commonly means a problem with the sternocleidomastoid.
  • Muscles that move the shoulders: there are seven pairs of muscles involved in this role but only four are located on the back. They are the trapezius, levator scapulae, rhomboid major, and rhomboid minor.
  • Muscles that move the arms: five pairs of different muscles involved in this function, the latissimus dorsi, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres major, and teres minor.

Causes of upper back issues.

The upper back usually hurts for three reasons:

  1. muscular irritation,
  2. joint dysfunction and
  3. emotional tension (stress related).

Some of the most common symptoms people experience when dealing with upper back issues are general discomfort, neck and/or back stiffness, tingling, numbness, or even sharp pain.

Simple daily habits such as working long hours with our heads tilted in front of a computer or phone could cause upper back pain. The latter is also known as text neck.

Stewart Eidelson, orthopedic surgeon and founder of Spine Universe includes other causes such as: working out without warming up, poor posture, lifting improperly, carrying a heavy load, repetitive movements, contact sports, and other more serious causes.

How to treat upper back pain.

Solutions can range from simple home remedies all the way to surgery based on the underlying causes. Let’s explore some of them.

  • Home remedies such as gentle stretches or a heating pad can be very useful in mild cases by increasing the blood flow and oxygenation to the affected area.
  • Postural exercises to correct poor posture. You could try imagery by imagining a cord passing through your body from the floor to the ceiling. This should be a guide to a more erect body correcting your posture.
  • Physical therapy conducted by a professional help in stretching and strengthening not only the upper back muscles but also the neck muscle.
  • Alternative treatments such as Therapeutic massage have been found to be a good resource in the management of upper back pain.

Harvard Medical School states in a 2016 article “Massage used to be considered an indulgence, but it’s now recognized as a legitimate therapy for some painful conditions”.

In the same article, Harvard medical school also mentioned that everyone does not require the same pressure intensity as massage sessions don’t need to be painful to be therapeutic.

Narongsak C. a medical doctor from Mahasarakham University, in a 2018 paper found out massage enhances tissue flexibility, increases relaxation, and improves the cervical range of motion.

Also in our practice, we have found that in 90% of the cases, the other 10% being the contraindications for massage like advanced spondylosis or bulging disk, massage therapy has been successful.

After 3-4 sessions clients have reported:
– improved the range of movement,
– substantial decrease in pain,
– improved flexibility,
– reduced “crunching” noise while moving the neck
– and improved sleep.

In conclusion, upper back pain is mostly a professional disease, related to our day-to-day activities. The causes are many and the pain can range from mild to intense. It’s mainly a preventable and treatable disease that usually takes a combination of methods like physical therapy or therapeutic massage to subside.


(Harvard Medical School. , 2016). Therapeutic massage for pain relief retrieved from


(Narongsak C., 2018). Treatment of Upper Back Pain with Therapeutic Massage for Office

Workers retrieved from https://he01.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/JTTAM/article/view/163024