Upper Back Pain – The Office Worker’s Curse
Upper Back Pain seems to have become the problem I treat with the greatest frequency. For quite some time it seemed that most people visited for low back problems, but now it seems that upper back pain has taken its mantle. It would appear that our sedentary jobs and digital lives have had a significant impact on our spinal health in recent times. I see it in just about every job type and sporting pastime, although in sports it’s often for different reasons. We’ll discuss the sporting reasons later, but for now, let’s look at how our jobs and lifestyles are making a mess of things for us.
Obviously, I’m generalising somewhat, but many of us go to work sitting down in a car. We get to work and sit down some more. We sit down again as we drive home, and once we’re home, we’re so tired from a hard day of sitting down that we need to sit down some more. And that’s just the start of it, as while we’re at work we’re often sat in front of a computer or using some kind of digital device. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. Instead, the problem lies with the length of time we perform these tasks for. If it was just a couple of hours per day things would probably be just fine and in my experience people who spend less time at their desk have less upper back pain, and back pain in general. But, in reality, we often spend far too much time performing these tasks and as a result, upper back pain has become far more common. I read an article recently that claimed no amount of exercise can make up for sitting down all day at a desk. And the risks of a sedentary job extend far beyond that of upper back pain. The risks of developing diabetes and heart problems increase significantly. “Sitting is the new cancer” is currently one phrase I keep hearing to describe just how bad it’s getting.
Now, that I’m pretty much done bashing the desk job, it’s worth pointing out that I see it in a great many other jobs too. Our general shift towards a more sedentary lifestyle has had a knock-on effect on other more physical jobs. I see the same upper back pain issues in shop workers, emergency services, warehousing, factory workers and the building trade to name but a few.
So what about upper back pain in sports that you mentioned earlier?
All sports will have some inherent requirements that favour particular muscle groups over that of other muscle groups. When a sport is played or participated in with great regularity problems will frequently occur. All this means is that if you participate in a sport you must take the time to learn what muscles groups will or are suffering from imbalance and take the time to redress the imbalances. Most problems are caused by placing a too higher load on a muscle or muscles than they aren’t adequately able to withstand. This is why you will find many athletes will cross train to prevent these problems from occurring or to rehabilitate an area that has had a problem.
What to do if you’re suffering from Upper Back Pain
Once again I will summarise somewhat to keep the article to not-so-boring length.
Sit Less – I think you probably knew that I’d say this.
Move more – Humans are creatures that have evolved to move. It’s why we have such large brains. Do anything you can to add more movement and break the monotony of sitting down all day. If you already have an active physical job and you’re suffering for one reason or another, find a way to mix up your daily tasks a bit more and add variety.
Stop emailing – If I had my way, I’d quietly lead email somewhere nice and secluded, thank it for its contribution to modern communication and shoot it the face. There are far more effective methods of human communication and task management that involve far less sitting down, and they’re worth exploring.
Do something at lunchtime – Rather than eating your lunch at your desk and flipping through Facebook to check on all the things that haven’t happen since you last visited, go somewhere else and eat. Maybe go for a short walk. It’s not much, but it all adds up to more than what you’re perhaps doing at the moment.
Workplace assessment – If you’re suffering work-related physical pain or discomfort it’s up to you to tell your employer. You have a duty of care to yourself and they have a duty of care to you. You will be the only person to lose out by doing nothing.
Exercise – The most common things I see accompanying upper back pain are short and tight pectoral muscles, long and weak trapezius and rhomboids, forward head position, reduced flexion of the shoulder joint, reduced mobility of the shoulder girdle and rounding of the upper back (Kyphosis). There’s far to many exercise and solutions for me to list here, but they can easily found with some searching around Youtube.
Diet – It’s no secret that I’m a fan of a low carbohydrate diet and fasting, and I’m not saying that you have to do that, but I do think that this style of eating is very beneficial for maintaining stable energy levels throughout your working day. Avoiding energy slumps through your day should help prevent a slumping posture.
Well, I think this about covers the main points for treating upper back pain. I’m sure with a bit of research you’ll be able to find much more information and advice on the subject. There are a great many reasons for suffering upper back pain, and far more than I can realistically cover in this article. The thing to remember is that upper back pain is treatable and the treatments are effective. Don’t suffer unnecessarily!