While pulling an upper back muscle is less common than pulling a muscle in your lower back, it can still have a detrimental impact on your life. A pulled muscle can happen anywhere in the thoracic spine (from the base of your neck to the bottom of your rib cage).
Upper and mid back pulled muscles can make it extraordinarily difficult to work at a computer and make sleeping very uncomfortable.
How Does A Pulled Muscle In Upper Back Feel?
- Pain in your upper back area in between your shoulder blades.
- Pain when you take a deep breathe in, cough or sneeze.
- Pain when you move your shoulders.
- Muscle spasm in the affected area.
- Area may be tender to the touch.
Common Causes of Upper Back Pulled Muscle:
Pulled muscles in the upper back area are typically the result of:
- Reaching overhead for long periods of time.
- Improper heavy lifting.
- Carrying a heavy backpack or purse, particularly if you carry it on one shoulder.
- Poor posture for extended periods of time.
- Injuries from certain sports, such as weight-lifting, tennis and rowing.
- Being overweight.
For practical purposes, it doesn’t matter if your back is strained or sprained because treatment and prognosis are the same for both types of injuries.
4 Best Recommended Treatments for a Pulled Muscle in the Upper Back
#1. Ice/Heat Therapy
Just like with a lower back pulled muscle, using ice therapy on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, every couple of hours, for the first 48 hours will help to reduce swelling and inflammation in the area, minimize muscle spasm, and provide pain relief by numbing the area. After the initial 48 hours, applying moist heat to the area for 20-minute intervals will help to increase blood flow to the area and encourage healing.
#2. Massage Therapy
Similar to having a lower back pulled muscle, having a massage may help to decrease muscle tightness and pain in the upper back by increasing blood flow to the area, thereby promoting healing, as well as encouraging the release of endorphins.
#3. Posture Correction While Seated
Because many pulled muscles in the upper back are the result of chronic poor posture, especially while seated at a desk, it is important to correct your sitting posture.
Proper sitting posture involves:
– shoulders positioned over your hips
– knees bent at 90 degrees
– feet flat on the floors (supported on a stool if your feet can’t reach the floor)
– elbows bent to 90 degrees (elbow should remain bent even when using your computer mouse)
– computer monitor at eye levels
– head positioned so that your ears are aligned with your shoulders
These three simple stretches will help to loosen the tightened muscles of your upper back and reduce pain.
Stretch #1: W & Y Stretch
How to do it:
– Begin standing with your back straight.
– Make “W” shape with your arms. Bend both of arms to about 90 degree angle as you lower them to your stomach area and then squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 2 breaths.
– Make “Y” shape with your arms by extending both arms up. Hold for 2 breaths.
– Aim for 5 repetitions
Stretch #2: Eagle Pose
How to do it:
– begin standing with your back straight.
– Interlace your arms together – as show in picture above.
– Raise the elbows to be aligned with your chin.
– Hold for 15 seconds and repeat for 3 sets.
Stretch #3: Side Stretch
How to do it:
– Begin standing with your feet positioned about shoulder width apart.
– Grab the opposite side of your head with one hand.
– Gently press the head towards your shoulder.
– Hold this stretch for about 20-30 seconds.
– Repeat on the other side.
– Aim for 3 repetitions on each side.
What to avoid?
Sleeping on Your Stomach!
When you sleep on your stomach you tend to turn your head to one side, which lengthens the muscles on one side of your neck, while shortening the muscles on the opposite side of your neck. This leads to a muscle imbalance and an increase in neck and upper back pain and restricts the joints in your neck and upper back from functioning normally.
Additionally, sleeping on your stomach causes your shoulder to fall forwards, into an anterior position. This results in your pectoralis muscles tightening, which can contribute to a cycle of neck, shoulder and upper back pain.
While pulling a muscle in your back isn’t typically a cause for concern because the majority of injuries heal up within a month, they can still cause some serious pain and discomfort and impact your ability to function optimally. Trying some of the treatments outlined above may help to reduce your pain and get you back to your normal activities sooner!
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Dr. Shaina McQuilkie – Licensed chiropractor.
Shaina graduated from Brock University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Kinesiology (Honours). She then attended D’Youville College, in Buffalo, New York and obtained her Doctorate of Chiropractic Degree in 2008. After graduating, Dr. McQuilkie practiced in a multi-disciplinary healthcare facility based in Hamilton, Ontario gaining experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal injuries.