You awake in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in your back. Each breath is excrutiating. You don’t want to move, as you fear more pain. You lie awake.

You’re sitting at your desk at work, and your upper back seizes. No amount of stretching or back bending relieves your pain, and it is now affecting your mood and productivity.

If either of these scenarios sound familiar, you know the difficulty of managing out-of-nowhere pain that refuses to let up. Upper back pain can be caused by a variety of factors. However, most often, upper back pain is related to a sprained rib, nerves surrounding which affect the spine. This pain can often relate to pain at the front of the chest, which originates from strain at the rib-to-breastbone junction, a condition known as costochondritis.

What Causes Upper Back Pain?

Each of your ribs moves by lifting off of your body as you inhale and resting back against your body as you exhale. Your ribs, via your rib cage, move this way in unison as your lungs inflate with air and empty. However, in order for your rib cage to move unhindered, each of your ribs must maintain full mobility and remain receptive to the motion of your spine.

Occasionally, one of your ribs will lodge or become stuck, disallowing the lung beneath to fill properly with air and produce the necessary gas exchange. This can can create multiple problems, including issues with lung function, which can lead to a decline in health. Once an individual is feeling physically unfit and unwell, it becomes easy for ribs to become misaligned during ordinary activities.

How Do Ribs Become Misaligned?

Strenuous, wrenching arm movements can strain your ribs. If your thoracic vertebra become stiff or twisted off-center, it is much easier for them to strain beyond their capability. In this situation, the head of your rib will not notch into the side of the disc and, instead, the rib muscles will clench protectively to keep the rib in place and still. Any chest movement, breathing included, will thus not operate in the usual manner. While the intercostal music normally operated when needed, it will remain active constantly, creating a highly painful, ongoing cramp.

You can also experience the muscle spasms of your intercostals like a stitch, the kind you experience when running. Each deep breath causes your muscles to flick harder, or create a hard band of tightness. In both cases, slower breathing can help relieve the initial pain, although you will want to visit your physician to confirm the cause of the pain if it persists.

Other Causes

Upper chest infections, including acute bronchitis, bronchiectasis, pneumonia, or the flu, can cause bouts of coughing which can leave you with multiple strained ribs. However, other factors, including the following, can cause incidents that result in rib dysfunction and subsequent pain:

  • Viral illness
  • Exhaustion
  • Emotional stress

If you are struggling with ongoing upper back pain, our team is here to help. Willamette Pain and Spine is ready and able to work with your primary care physician to develop a pain management plan that works for you.