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Mechanical Back Pain

Mechanical Back Pain in the Upper Back

Mechanical back pain or an injury to a disc in the upper back is rare, with most cases of mechanical back pain referring to the lumbar spine (low back) or cervical spine (neck). However, while less common, upper back spinal disorders can cause a significant amount of pain and discomfort.

The upper back and middle back (also known as the thoracic spine) are designed to be stable, strong, and protect the vital internal organs of the chest. Since there is relatively little movement in this upper section of the spinal column, disc degeneration and injuries are less common. However, mechanical pain in the upper back can occur as a result of a degenerated disc or a thoracic herniated disc. Statistically, approximately 1% of all disc herniations occur in the upper back.

Thoracic Herniated Disc: Symptoms and Causes

mechanical upper back painA thoracic herniated disc – that is, a herniated disc in the upper spine – can cause upper back pain, radiating pain, and/or numbness. In addition, the pain tends to be exacerbated by sneezing or coughing. The exact symptoms will depend upon where the disc herniates and where the inner material of the intervertebral disc impinges. In most cases, symptoms of thoracic back pain develop very gradually and are present for a long time before people seek treatment.

What can cause a thoracic herniated disc? Most upper back herniated discs occur as a result of wear and tear of the discs over time (degeneration) or as a result of a significant trauma to the upper back – i.e. a high degree of sudden force due to a fall or sports injury.

Mechanical Back Pain Treatment

Upper back pain of these types can be treated with:

  • Activity modification and short-term rest until back pain is reduced
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Ice packs
  • Upper back stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Massage therapy
  • Chiropractic manipulations
  • Acupuncture
  • Practice of proper posture over time

In rare instances, thoracic herniated disc surgery may be required, wherein a decompression takes place to take pressure off of the nerve root or spinal cord.