If you spend a little too much time hunched over a computer or iPhone scrolling through gossip on social media, there's a good chance you've experienced some form of pain in your back — specifically, your upper back.
While this area (aka the thoracic spine) isn't as susceptible to injury as the lower back, upper back pain is still common. In fact, according to one study, researchers found that 1 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women experience pain in their upper back — that's a lot of people!
Fortunately, when aches and pain in the upper back strikes, a gentle rubdown can usually do the trick to ease the pain — but what massage techniques work best? We'll tell you.
Read on to get the scoop on the best massages for upper back pain.
What Is the Upper Back?
When discussing the upper back (also referred to as the middle back), it's usually the thoracic spine that's being referred to. This is the area between the bottom of your neck and your ribs.
But, the truth is that upper back pain isn't limited to just the spine — you can experience issues with your rib cage, scapula (shoulder blade), and any aspect of the musculature in that area. This is what makes diagnosing upper back pain sort of tricky!
What Does Upper Back Pain Feel Like?
Pain in the upper region of the back can feel different from person to person, but some people describe it as:
Upper back pain usually isn't serious, but in some cases, it may warrant a trip to the doctor's office. Call your primary care provider if your sore back is accompanied by pain in the chest, pain that radiates to other body parts, or a fever.
What Causes Upper Back Pain?
There are many culprits that can lead to an achy-breaky upper back — some of the most common include:
Whether you're dealing with chronic back pain (gradual pain that's long-lasting) or acute back pain (sudden pain that's short-term), the first thing that you should do is review your habits — more specifically, your posture.
Hunching over a computer, slouching in a chair, or carrying an especially heavy backpack when you walk can all contribute to a posture that's less than favorable. And when you have poor posture, upper back pain is sure to follow suit.
Did you spend the entire day helping your bestie move into a new apartment? Get a random urge to paint the ceiling? Building an epic treehouse for your little one? Putting the upper back through more work than usual is a surefire way to increase your risk of a painful injury.
Muscle overuse can cause muscle strain, tightness, and irritation, which can lead to a sore back. Improper lifting techniques can also result in upper back pain.
Ask just about any pregnant woman or seasoned mama about back pain, and they'll likely tell you that this less-than-favorable symptom is pretty much a given when there's a bun in the oven. In fact, a recent study revealed that there's a whopping 42% chance of upper back pain occurring during pregnancy and postpartum.
Why is upper back pain so common in pregnancy, you ask? Well, there are actually a number of things that can be behind a mom-to-be's upper back pain, but more often than not, a growing uterus and fluctuating hormones are to blame.
For example, the hormone relaxin can relax your pelvic joints and ligaments to prepare for childbirth — which is a good thing — but sometimes this little hormone works a little too well and can cause unwanted side effects, like body aches and upper back pain.
A prenatal massage is a good way to soothe soreness, but there's nothing we love more than 8 Sheep's Organic Magnesium Lotion when it comes to back pain. Formulated with only the best of the best pregnancy-safe organic ingredients, 116,000+ mamas trust this deliciously soft lotion nationwide to prevent restless legs, calm back pain, and induce a good night's sleep.
How Can Massage Therapy Help Upper Back Pain?
An upper back massage won't just leave you feeling oh-so relaxed, but it can also help ease muscle tightness, soothe tension, reduce inflammation, boost blood circulation, combat pain, and more.
Thinking about getting a massage to calm your achy-breaky back? Here are some of the best massage techniques that are known to do wonders for upper back pain:
A Swedish massage is a great choice when you have stress or tension. The idea behind this coveted technique is to stimulate blood flow in the muscles by combining long strokes, kneading motions, stretching, friction, and tapping. It's wonderful for tense muscles and an excellent way to get relief from upper back pain.
Deep Tissue Massage
A deep tissue massage is similar to the same soothing techniques as a Swedish massage, but the massage therapist will use their elbows and forearms to reach a deeper muscle layer.
Often used to calm chronic pain, this type of massage can unknot inner layers of hard-to-reach tissue to combat stiffness and release tightness while increasing blood circulation and decreasing inflammation — perfect for upper back pain.
Hot Stone Massage
A hot stone massage is similar to the techniques used in a regular massage, but the massage therapist also works with hot stones that are placed on specific parts of the body — like the upper back.
The result? An increase in the flow of oxygen and other nutrients to the damaged tissue, which can speed up the healing process and, in turn, reduce pain.
Trigger Point Massage
Your upper back pain may result from knots developing in the area around and in between your shoulder blades. This is no match for a trigger point massage, though, which can help to work out those unwelcomed knots and reduce the pain associated with them.
A form of Asian bodywork with origins in traditional Chinese medicine, shiatsu (meaning finger pressure) massage uses acupoints and energy channels to heal the body and alleviate pain in the upper back. This holistic therapy can also enhance the body's natural healing abilities to promote relaxation, minimize stress levels, and increase energy.
In other words, if you're looking to heal your mind, body, and spirit while combating pain in your upper back, shiatsu massage is the technique for you!
The use of essential oils to alleviate pain is nothing new. In fact, the history of aromatherapy can be traced back more than 3,500 years B.C. It's a safe, natural approach for effectively managing pain — including any soreness you may have in the upper region of your back.
During an aromatherapy massage, a masseuse may light a few aromatherapy candles before applying aromatic essential oils to tender areas of the back while using gentle massage techniques to improve blood flow and boost healing.
A Final Word
There's just about nothing better than a relaxing massage to rub your troubles away when it comes to upper back pain. Experiment with different techniques to find the one that's right for you and when searching for a masseuse in your area, be sure to do your due diligence first. A certified massage therapist with many years of experience is best to soothe back pain, especially if you're pregnant.
Due to an increase in blood flow to support the development of a fetus, pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing clots — which should never be massaged. That said, if you have a bun in the oven and are experiencing back pain, this doesn’t mean you can’t get a gentle rubdown; it just means to proceed with caution! And when in doubt, seek advice from your OBGYN.