What are the Most Common Causes of Upper Back and Neck Pain?

Upper back and neck pain is most often caused by one of two situations: an injury due to direct force, or muscle strains and tension due to posture issues. People who sit at a desk for long periods of time are especially prone to upper back and neck pain, particularly if they do not sit in ergonomic chairs or if they spend a significant amount of time typing at a computer. Injuries are common causes of upper back and neck pain, especially in automobile accidents, sports, or as a result of a fall.

Direct trauma to the neck, shoulders, or upper back can cause upper back and neck pain, either because of a strained muscle, or because of a problem with the vertebrae in the spine. If a vertebra is knocked out of place, or if a disc of the spine becomes herniated — that is, the gel-like fluid between two discs wears down or begins to leak — moderate to extreme pain will be felt in the neck and upper back. Injuries due to trauma need to be treated by a professional who can diagnose the problem and recommend a rehabilitation treatment. Some of these injuries, however, can be treated with rest, icing, and heating.


Poor posture can cause upper back and neck pain because the muscles in the neck are constantly tensed and tired. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time, especially while typing, allow the muscles in the neck to tense up as they hold the head in position. The pain can then radiate into the upper back, where other muscles are straining to support the neck and shoulders. To avoid such upper back and neck pain, one might consider purchasing an ergonomic chair that supports the lumbar spine, which in turn keeps the spine straighter. The neck and shoulders will then become less tense, causing less pain.

Other conditions, such as arthritis, can cause pain in the joints of the neck, back, and shoulders. Arthritis is a weakening of a joint; it is more common as a person grows older and the ligaments that connect two bones in a joint begin to degenerate. As a result of this wearing down, the two bones may be allowed to rub against each other, causing a painful, aching sensation in the neck or back. Arthritis can be treated with medication, regular stretching, and regular exercise, though for some, the pain may be persistent despite all treatment options.



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