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Upper back and neck pain: causes, treatment and exercises

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

This is one of the most frequent consultation problems since many people suffer at some point in their life discomfort in the neck and upper back area. Muscle contractures, poor posture, joint and nerve problems, and more complicated diseases, such as infections or tumors, can have this pain as a common denominator.

If you want to know more about the causes of upper back and neck pain, its treatment, and what exercises you can do at home to improve, continue reading this article from FastlyHeal.

Bad posture

There are different causes why the neck and back can hurt. It has been reported that about 35% of people have this type of pain at some point in their life, and although most will recover within the first month, some may have this type of pain chronically. The different reasons are set out below, along with the treatment that can be carried out in each case.

The vast majority of people are used to adopting the wrong postures when standing, sitting, exercising, lifting weights, and even when lying down. This can be favored by a health problem, obesity, poor distribution of body fat, or simply by habit. It is a chain, since when taking bad postures, the muscles contract excessively or do not have the strength to support the structure of the back and neck and, thus, the dire position we take is further favored, an endless wheel if we couldn’t stop it.


To correct this bad habit and relieve upper back and neck pain, you must pay attention to the usually taken posture. In each of your activities, you must be aware of how you do it.

Another good strategy is to strengthen the muscles of the back through exercises specially directed to this; you can consult a specialist in physiotherapy and kinesiology, who can guide you so that the work is well done.

Espondilosis cervical

It is a degeneration that the cervical spine can suffer over the years, but if there is no pain, it is not a problem in itself. Structural wear may be favored when the neck has been overloaded for a long time, performing tasks, jobs, or sports that involve weight-bearing, or microtraumas, such as minor repetitive injuries.

In addition to the pain, you may feel a stiff neck, tingling in the arms, lack of strength or lack of urinary continence if the nerves exiting the spine are affected, which would be a more advanced degree.


To help reduce the discomfort of this chronic problem, you must face it from different perspectives:

  • Perform light exercise and be well guided by kinesiologists to strengthen the muscles that must support the spine.
  • Trying to maintain the body as well as possible through healthy eating habits is critical since having a prominent abdomen and obesity cause wrong postures.
  • Strengthening the bone system from healthy sources of calcium is essential. It has been seen that in countries where more dairy is consumed, there is more osteoporosis and the inflammatory reactions it causes in the body. It is preferable to consume the calcium in oranges, spinach, thyme, oregano, seeds, and other foods.
  • Vitamin D is also essential in this as in the rest of the chronic health problems, both to cure them and prevent them. The primary way to incorporate it is through the sun since a reaction is generated in the skin. In another article, we explain how vitamin D increase.

Stiff neck

Another common cause of upper back and neck pain is torticollis. Due to a wrong movement or a muscle contraction in someone with slight elongation or who habitually takes bad postures, there is a sudden and constant contraction of a muscle in the upper back or neck that frequently happens with the trapezius.


Although this problem is quite annoying, it tends to give way soon, helped by local heat, massages, and, if the pain is very intense, some analgesic or muscle relaxant can be used. In the following article, we show some home remedies to relieve torticollis.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction

It is common in medical practice due to tension, stress, problems in the teeth or the jaw joint when there is a contraction in the chewing muscles, and because these are the strongest in the world. When they are contracted, the body generates a secondary contraction of the neck and upper back powers. Therefore, the symptoms can be very varied:

  • Pain in the upper area of ​​the neck and back.
  • Non-constant earache, throbbing type.
  • Itchy ears
  • Throat pain.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness
  • The sensation of pressure in the head or ears.
  • Noises in the ear.
  • Intense pain in the face due to trigeminal nerve involvement.


To alleviate the discomfort, you can apply heat to the annoying area, avoid eating foods that involve chewing a lot, or open your mouth wide. You can take some pain reliever, but what can make the discomfort better is:

  • Perform exercise and stretching to relieve tension.
  • Consult a specialist joint dentist, who may indicate a relaxation plate, which is placed on the bite, or recognize and treat another problem causing the dysfunction.

Intense exercise and lack of elongation

The pain appears after intense sports practice or usually occurs after exercise. If you do not perform adequate stretching regularly, you should pay more attention to how you perform the activity and adequately lengthen your muscles.


If the pain is very intense and does not subside, it is best to consult to rule out any muscle injury, in which case you should receive a treatment that includes rest and physical therapy.

If you do not have injuries, you can practice good stretches guided by a kinesiology specialist or gentle yoga practices.

Cervical radiculopathy

It is about the involvement of one or more nerves in the cervical area which produces, in addition to pain:

  • Alterations insensitivity in the neck.
  • Weakness in the muscles in the area.
  • Alteration in reflexes.


A neurosurgeon must carry out the follow-up, and the treatment is always tried to be as less invasive as possible. Still, there is the possibility of surgery in more severe cases.

Upper back and neck pain after the accident

If the pain started after a head-on collision or fall, a sprain might have occurred from hyperextension and hyperflexion in the neck, known as whiplash. Something more serious that could have happened is a fracture. In these cases, you should immediately go to a health center, trying not to mobilize the neck.

Other diseases that cause back and neck pain

Some infections can cause pain in the back and neck, such as the case of meningitis or pneumonia. In both cases, they will be accompanied by other symptoms such as general malaise, fever, and there may be a stiff neck or vomiting in meningitis; cough and mucus in pneumonia.

Another possibility is a neoplasm. A tumor close to areas where there is discomfort or bone metastases from other neoplasms may present significant pain as a manifestation, which usually appears more at night.

If you think that may be the case, it is best not to promptly take painkillers or self-medicate and go to a health center.

Exercises for upper back and neck pain

It is essential to reach a proper diagnosis because, as we have seen, there are many and very diverse causes of pain in the cervical and upper back area. If the reason is only muscular and other more serious causes have been ruled out, if the pain is not persistent and did not appear after an accident, you can try performing specific exercises to alleviate the discomfort. Here are some of them:

  • Acid pressure in the back and side of the head, behind the ears. This is where the sternocleidomastoid muscles of the neck insert. Hold that place tight for a minute, and you will notice how the pain will subside. You must breathe deeply while you do it.
  • You can also apply that pressure with your fingers in the jaw area, above and below the cheekbone. Their part of the chewing muscles is inserted. This will significantly relieve the contracture at this level.
  • Another critical point to compress is the trapezius. You must use the opposite hand and press punctually where you notice the most discomfort, holding this point until the pain improves.
  • You can perform a self-massage on the neck, from the lower area of ​​the head to the upper area of ​​the back, and focus more on the site that hurts the most. You will notice a great relief because this helps improve circulation in that area, which is essential to relieve muscle contractures.
  • To improve posture, you can do exercises that strengthen the muscles that support the spine, which you can do with push-ups or hyperextensions.
  • Another essential aid is stretching. Do it carefully and correctly, without applying too much pressure and without making it hurt too much. The work must be progressive and smooth. Stretches the trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, and various muscles in the back.

Suppose you have doubts about performing these exercises, especially those for strengthening the muscles and elongation. In that case, the ideal is that you consult a physiotherapist, who will be able to guide you in the best way.

This article is merely informative. At FastlyHeal .com, we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor if you present any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Upper back and neck pain: causes, treatment, and exercises, we recommend entering our Bones, Joints, and Muscles category.

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