Can Chiropractors Treat Upper Back Pain?

I would say no less than 30 times a week A new or existing patient will present to my office with upper back pain right between the shoulder blades usually on one side of their spine. The first question I always get: is there anything you can do to help with this knot in my shoulder? My wife keeps rubbing it and it’s not getting any better.

Yes, absolutely chiropractic can help with upper back pain.

The world is constantly changing around us, and there happens to be one constant that will probably be with us: our workplace is becoming more and more sedentary. In the early 1950s when the first computer was invented it was large enough to fit in the basement of most homes. There was never really a common use except for large computing but it was not applicable in everyday work environments. Fast forward 70 years and now we have computers in every aspect of our life, but mainly for work.

The bureau of labor statistics states that 99% of all occupations require computers. Whether it be for the smallest GPS coordinates for farmers to plant their crops more efficiently, or for software engineers and department of defense applications. The overall message is that everyone is using computers these days, and most people are sitting in front of them for at least eight hours a day.

The first thing I usually ask my patients who are experiencing upper back pain is what their work style and lifestyle are like. I turn to find out that the majority of people are sitting most of their days.

In comparison, I deal with a lot of auto injuries and whiplash-related trauma. One of the primary complaints for a whiplash patient is also a primary complaint for my patients who sit at desks all day. It’s because the pain in your upper back is likely coming from your neck, not your shoulders or upper back muscles.

What are the most overlooked nerves in all of musculoskeletal health care? The long thoracic nerve that travels from the base of the neck down between the spine and scapula on both sides of our body. It is one of those obnoxious nerves that, when irritated, usually is the contributing factor to the pain that patients are experiencing.

This constant pulling and tugging on the long thoracic nerve produces irritation and stress. The nerve typically fires abnormally causing a spasm of the muscles that are innervated fast, leading to the restless nights that we may experience if left untreated for long. When I’m looking at these injuries and pain, more often than not, I will find ribs that are not moving appropriately we start to address that area but also move up to the neck.

But the problem is much greater than just upper back pain that’s usually the symptom to drive patients to our office. However, the culprit is usually the lower neck. Patients who sit at their desk for long periods of time usually lose their posture, and their head starts to move forward. This relies on our upper trap and upper back muscles to hold our head upright is almost to prevent it from falling off of our cervical spine.

The most valuable orthopedic test that I can do on a patient is a test called a maximum cervical compression test. I would say the majority of the patients experiencing this type of pain will test positive when I perform this test. It’s a compression of that specific nerve as well as the disks in the lower cervical spine. When we identify the culprit, which is usually the neck, I’m able to educate the patient as to the source of their pain. A broader picture is then painted so that they understand the proper treatment protocols to address this. Because all too often they think it’s just a knot in their upper back.

Through proper postural training corrective exercises and adjustments, I’m able to eradicate the pain for these patients and ultimately provide long-lasting relief. I too suffered from this while entering my chiropractic education, and within a couple of short months, my pain was resolved by one of the school doctors. Remember I studied for 40 hours a week in school, and 40 hours a week outside of school. Since this incident, I have never suffered from this pain again. It’s all about proper education and treatment protocols. This specific problem does not require lengthy treatment programs that last months, but simply proper education. So I guess the long answer is yes, chiropractors can treat upper back pain.

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