Vital Wellness Centre

905 206 8882

1550 S Gateway Rd Unit 123, Mississauga, ON L4W 5G6

Everyday 11AM - 8PM

Vital Wellness Centre

905 206 8882

1550 S Gateway Rd Unit 123, Mississauga, ON L4W 5G6

Everyday 11AM - 8PM

What's the Fastest Way to Relieve Upper Back Pain?

Upper Back Pain sucks, period. It's not talked about much when low back pain and neck pain seem to be much more common. However, this doesn't mean that Upper Back Pain should be ignored! It's quite the opposite if anything.

In this article, we're going to talk about everything you need to know about Upper Back Pain and the fastest way to relieve upper back pain. Unfortunately, the fastest way is still a process that requires time and dedication.

Upper Back Pain

Image Source: Complete Anatomy App

Frequently asked Questions on Upper Back Pain

Before we start, here’s some frequently asked questions that you may want to have answered first before reading the rest of this article. There are links to help guide you to where you need to find.

The cause of upper back pain can vary – it’s not as simple as just picking out one or two things that you’ve done that have caused your grief.

It’s usually a combination of factors, like height, backpack use, stress and day-to-day repetitions 

Here’s a list of many of the causes of upper back pain here in this blog post.

Upper Back Pain in many cases can be mild and self-limiting, meaning it can typically go away on its own. However some Red Flags that you should be aware of include worsening pain, recent bacterial infection, numbness, recent violent trauma and many more described here.

A pulled upper back muscle usually describes a muscle or tendon being strained from overuse (or from being overstretched). 

Massaging the area gently at first can quell swelling, decrease pain and help increase your range of motion. 

Watch these two videos here to see how you can do that.

There’s a bunch of reasons why your upper back could be in so much pain. Make sure you review this list of Red Flags when it comes to upper back issues to see if you need to make a trip to your Physician.

The most common causes for upper back pain are repetitive overuse (work-related or day-to-day), postural stresses and overloading your body.

You can learn more about those causes here.

Hey You! Looking for a certain part in the post? Use this table of contents to help guide you to where you want to be!

Table of Contents


 What we discuss in the entirety of this post isn’t a substitute for medical advice – and is for educational purposes only! Please consult a physician if you have any concerns about your health that you feel like need to be addressed immediately!

How do I know if my Upper Back Pain is Serious?

When there’s pain, there’s always that little voice in the back of your head that’s going to be wondering if you need to go to the hospital or not.

For the most part, upper back pain is generally known to be self-limiting. This means that your upper back pain should go away on its own without you or anyone else helping. 

However, this is a general rule, and if you ever feel anxious or concerned about your upper back pain, you should talk to your medical doctor about it.

Below is a generic list of Red Flags that you should take note of when you do have bouts of Upper Back Pain.

These Red Flag symptoms of Upper Back Pain should be duly noted and be heavily considered as reasoning to plan a trip to your medical doctor as soon as possible. 

Red Flags
Recent Violent Trauma
Minor Trauma with Osteoporosis
History of Cancer, Drug Abuse, HIV, immunosuppression or prolonged use of corticosteroids
Fever & Chills
Unexplained Weight Loss
Recent Bacterial Infection
Numbness, pins and needles in the lower body that’s becoming worse
Pain that is there all the time, severe and becoming worse
Pain accompanied by severe stiffness in the morning
Changes in appearance to the thorax

Symptoms of Upper Back Pain

You probably know what the symptoms of upper back pain are. 

Your upper back is involved, and it hurts.

That’s about all you really need to know, to be sure that you have upper back pain.

However, symptoms can also include:

  • Stiffness
  • Tension
  • Tightness
  • Discomfort

Yes, these all sound like synonyms of one another, but they can be used to describe different scenarios.

Stiffness usually describes the inability to move in the way one would want due to pent up tension.

Tension itself is described as feeling like your muscles are being pulled or stretched.

Tightness is the sensation of feeling restricted, or unable to move much, if at all.

Discomfort is just what you feel from all of the above, plus pain.

It’s important to know what these sensations are, and how they feel, so you’ll know when you start feeling any of these, and how it feels when they start to disappear as well.

*Keep in mind these definitions are subjective at times despite their formal definitions – which I haven’t included*

Causes of Upper Back Pain

There are tons of explanations for what can be causing your upper back pain.

Whether it’s postural stress from long, stagnated work hunched over at a desk or screen – or perhaps a traumatic incident that has left you feeling less than titillated.

Here are some of the most common causes of Upper Back Pain:

Side Note: Poor posture in and of itself has been known to not be a primary driver of pain. Really, it’s the lack of movement, or the state of being sedentary that’s slowly killing us all. 

So instead of focusing on perfecting your posture, try moving more during episodes in your life where you’re stuck in one place (i.e., a desk job).

What Causes Upper Back Pain

Image Source: Spine Universe

In case the image doesn’t load, or if you may need help reading out the image, here’s the list:

  • Poor Posture
  • Text Neck
  • Whiplash
  • Lifting Improperly
  • Overuse
  • Repetitive Movements
  • Contact Sports
  • Carrying too heavy a load
  • Wearing an overloaded backpack

Risk Factors for Upper Back Pain

Unfortunately, and for those perhaps fortunately – we’re not all equal when it comes to the development of a possible case of Upper Back Pain. 

However, with that being said there are ways to change some of those risk factors to reduce the intensity, as well as the incidence of bouts of Upper Back Pain.

Perhaps not all, it’d be quite difficult to outright change your height, age and sometimes even the way you perform your job!

Let’s dive into a bit of detail on each of these Risk Factors.

Risk Factors
Backpack Use
Backpack Weight
Postural Changes
Low Back Pain
Neck Pain
High Mental Pressure
Lack of Recovery
Repetitive Tasks
Work Related Stresses
Frequent and Sustained Bending


Backpack use and weight has been correlated with a high risk of developing upper back pain – this is especially apparent in adolescents. 

Makes sense though, considering we know that one of the causes is wearing an overloaded backpack – do it more often and it can lead to worsening symptoms and increasing incidence of upper back pain.


Postural changes has more to do with structural changes in the body that lead you to experiencing Upper Back issues.

Things like hyperkyphosis, hyperlordosis, scoliosis of the spine, spinal stenosis. ankylosing spondylitis and more can all contribute to this. 

Does Posture Matter?

Postural changes make it difficult to move more, especially more comfortably (i.e. when you’re stuck driving)

Generally speaking, less movement is a bad thing – and postural changes due to conditions makes it more difficult and less desirable.

Neck & Low Back Pain

The upper back or thoracic spine is right smack dab in between our cervical and lumbar spine (our neck and low back).

Because of this, you can guess why having pain in your neck and low back can lead to issues in between – namely your upper back.

Sometimes these problems go hand in hand, and you can’t do much about it – but avoiding co-morbidities is always helpful in combatting pain syndromes.

Bigger isn't always better

Height has more to do with the fact that the taller you are, the more time you’re probably going to spend in awkward positions.

These awkward positions are what we could call “postural stresses.”

Poor posture isn’t the same as experiencing postural stresses. 

Let’s explore and example: Think of a tall Nordic fellow  where the average height of a Nord is 6″ or 1.83 meters.

A tall person

For all intents and purposes, let’s have this Nordic person visiting a place in East Asia, where the average male height is 5 feet, 7 inches or 1.69 meters.

So imagine being in a place that has tables, washrooms, doors and just generally buildings made for people nearly a foot shorter than you. You’d be constantly having to stoop over, bend down and look downwards on most of the people living there!

Constantly having to do this could lead to repetitive stress in the upper back and neck.

Age isn't just a number.

Age has more to do with deterioration over time – the more you have to muddle through and use your body, the more wear and tear you’re likely going to experience.

This wear and tear won’t feel that good in your upper back at times (this isn’t always the case, there’s evidence that imaging that shows severe issues can be of little to no pain experienced by the person in question).

Age isn't just a number is it?


At the end of the day, having more experience under your belt can contribute to pain higher above your belt –  upper back pain specifically.

However, it’s unlikely that living longer would be the sole cause of your upper back achiness & pain.

The Stress of Stress

High Mental Pressure, Repetitive tasks, work related stresses, frequent and sustained bending and then not giving yourself enough time to recover.

Stress has been studied over and over again as a predominant factor in just too many conditions. Turns out if you want to live a longer, higher quality life – you’ll want to avoid things that stress you out.

You’ll definitely feel a lot better when it comes to your upper back if you’re able to avoid excess stress.

Related Muscles

Here are some muscles that play a part in your upper back pain – whether it’s because they’re anatomically in the area that we call “the upper back”, or because the muscle knots that lie in those areas can “refer” or shoot pain into your upper back.

Image Source: Complete Anatomy App

The Fastest Way to Relieve Upper Back Pain.

Everyone’s specific situation is unique – one treatment plan for someone else with Plantar Fasciitis may be wildly different compared to yours.

Generally speaking, a combination of alleviating pain through massage, mobilizing through stretches and strengthening weakened muscles is your best bet for conservative treatment.

Pick and choose what works for you and what’s comfortable for your body. Discard and don’t do things that are painful.

Let’s go through some of those now!

How to Massage Upper Back Pain on yourself.

It’s different for everyone – for some people you can find instant relief with these techniques. 

However, a focus on the long-game may do you a whole lot better.

1. Upper Back Foam Roll

Try these 3 different ways to Foam Roll your Upper Back! The Upper Back is an area that of course connects the two frequently achy and painful areas in our bodies – the neck and the lower back! Sometimes working on mobility & strengthening of the upper back can help resolve those two other notorious problems. So grab your foam roller and try these 3 movements!

2. Recovery Ball for Trigger Points

 All you need is a sock and some sort of hand-held ball, like a tennis  or lacrosse ball.  Slap ’em together and throw it over your shoulder. 

Pin that ball in between a wall and where it hurts, and press in – it should be uncomfortable but not unbearable or intolerable pain! 

Hold that until the pain and soreness dwindle away – and hunt for a few more if you’d like!

Mobility Exercises for Upper Back Pain.

1. Shrug Rotations

 Keeping still, maintaining the same posture for extended periods of time can lead to the formation of painful muscle knots or trigger points!

Movement is medicine when it comes to helping with myofascial pain – so try this shoulder shrug and rotation several times a day, and see how you feel! It’s a cycle – so once you finish one rep, restart it and do a few more!

2. Cork Screws

This is a great movement that I basically get every patient of mine to do if they have even a minor complaint of upper back or neck pain/tightness!

This exercise is a great way to increase the mobility and release the stiffness associated with looking either only down or up for too long (e.g. a teenager on their phone versus an electrician doing overhead work).

3. Open Book

This is an easy source of Thoracic and Cervical (Your upper body, head and neck basically) rotation! This is one of my favourite exercises.

4. Thread The Needle

This entire exercise video is dedicated to helping you choose a few thoracic mobility workouts – so go ahead and watch the full thing if you’d like.

At the 0:12 second mark – is where I do a move called “Thread the Needle”. It’s a thoracic mobility movement where you’re on your hands & knees and reach off to the side as far as you’re comfortable.

5. Overhead Lat Stretch

This is a classical stretch for the largest muscle in your upper body – the Latissimus Dorsi. 

It almost looks like a prayer stretch, where you’re on your knees and have your hands up in the air. 

You can do this on a sofa, chair or whatever you can get your hands on and perform this stretch safely. I typically hold for about 15 seconds per repetition of a stretch.

Strengthening Exercises for Upper Back Pain

1. IYT Poses

These 3 movements are a must-do when it comes to rotator cuff/shoulder rehab – they can sometimes be provocative in nature, since they’re not a piece of cake to do, especially with weight. All these movements involve above the shoulder movement, (sort of, with the T), and are important to slowly train! 

They’re called IYTs because you basically mimic each letter with your arms. 

T Poses, you have your arms at your sides, Y Poses, you have them up in the air angled a bit, and I poses can be done either at the sides of your body or directly above your head (like a Superman Pose).

2. Swimmers

Here’s one of my favourite exercises, just in general! It’s just so good for you! It moves you through almost every range that the  shoulder can do, internal & external rotation, abduction, extension, flexion, you know it, we got it in this exercise!

It can help increase mobility, especially for someone with frozen shoulder,  rotator cuff issues, tendonitis and tendinosis in the shoulder.

It’ll of course, also help add stability and endurance to your shoulders – if you’re doing this slow enough, this should prove to be a tough  exercise.

3. Crab Pose

This exercise is a great way to “reverse”‘ classically bad posture – the posture that kind of looks like the hunchback of Notre Dame. 

However there’s nothing wrong with that posture per se – when it comes to pain at least. 

Function and aesthetics of course can be slightly affected by posture – but that’s for another topic.

4. Wall Angel Slides

This is a great exercise for your shoulders, neck and upper back. However we can make it even harder by involving our lower bodies and adding a squatting component to it too!

During this exercise, you generally want to be keeping your hands & arms nice and close to the wall, without leaning onto it. Bring your arms up and down nice and slow, almost exaggeratedly in order to get the most of this movement. 

Need a little help?

Let’s say that doing it yourself doesn’t really work – that’s fine! Sometimes a little help will come along the way. You can always see a health care professional, wherever you are, and whether or not that’s a Registered Massage Therapist is up to you!

However, if you’re looking to have treatment with a health care professional about a pain problem or functional issue you have, and happen to live in the Greater Toronto Area, specifically Mississauga. You’re always welcome to come see me in person! You can book online with a click of a button!

Book an Appointment!

Your health is vital to us. Come meet us in person and see what pain problems we can help solve with you.
Picture of Richard Lam

Richard Lam

Richard is the owner of Vital Wellness centre and practices as a registered massage therapist with a specialty in therapeutic massage, utilizing techniques including manual therapy, contemporary medical acupuncture and PDTR.

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