Causes of Upper Back Pain

By Sally Ann Quirke | Filed under: Upper Back Pain

Upper Back Pain Causes
What are the main causes of upper back pain?

What are the Causes of Upper Back Pain - and if you are suffering, you might be also asking - and Why Me?!

While this is a frequently asked question in my physiotherapy clinic - the simple answer is that the causes of upper back pain are many. However, while the causes of upper back pain are many - there is one cause that I see most often in my clinic and that is lack of good posture.

Almost 90% of the upper back pain clients that I treat have pain arising from poor sitting posture which they maintain over long periods of time. I’ll explain a bit further.

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The #1 cause of upper back pain - Poor posture!

Have you ever really looked at the way that you sit at a desk or a table? If you have a desk job and have upper back pain, this might become familiar to you.

Upper Back Pain from sitting
Upper Back Pain from Poor Computer Posture

So often I have clients with desk jobs telling referring to me with upper back pain, shoulder pain or neck pain - and when I assess them, it is often down to how they sit at their desks.

Then they tell me that they have had an ergonomic assessment of their work station and their set up is perfect. The truth is that no matter how wonderful your work station is ergonomically constructed, if you do not sit correctly while there you may develop upper back pain.

First, your station should ideally be assessed ergonomically by an expert in this field, or a chartered physiotherapist. If you work from home or spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, then I have guest article about the Top 5 tips on creating an Ergonomic Work Station here.

Then, the correct way to sit is to adopt what is called an “active sitting posture”. This involves lifting your tail bone upwards, pull your shoulder blades down and pull your tummy in! I like to use the description of a helium balloon coming out of the top of your head lifting you towards the ceiling!

Think about what normally happens - an “inactive sitting posture” - I find that clients with upper back pain work on their computers with their lower backs slumped, shoulder blades up and chin poked out towards the screen. The end result inevitably being - over time - mild to severe upper back or neck pain.

Other causes of upper back pain.

Other causes of upper back pain that I see include:

  • Poor lifting techniques. To prevent such injuries - a correct lifting technique is vital.
  • Stress.
  • Poor baby-feeding techniques.
  • Poor mattresses.
  • Using a poor pillow or one that does not suit you.
  • Whiplash injuries following a road traffic accident or sports injury.
  • Poor schoolbag-carrying techniques - a real problem with the amount of books many schoolchildren are expected to carry.
  • iPosture! - this one I have added recently - it is from kids and adults staring into their smartphones and tables.

To summarise - the causes of upper back pain are many and varied. However, in my experience, they almost always come down to sticking with a poor posture over time in various positions.

Treating upper back pain

Treatment needs to be directed to the primary cause along with posture correction - followed by a correction of the secondary effects of poor posture, such as muscle imbalances. This will ease your upper back pain and prevent further episodes in most cases. If you have upper back pain for over 72 hours or have Chronic Upper Back Pain, I recommend that you see your physiotherapist for expert diagnosis, treatment and advice.


The materials contained on this website are provided for general information and educational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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