Back pain is the most common cause for disability in the UK1 and can really have a huge impact on your quality of life if left untreated. Middle back pain describes the specific pain that occurs in the part of the back between the rib cage and the base of the neck. 2
What is middle back pain a symptom of?
The area of the middle back contains backbones, discs, the spinal cord and various muscles and ligaments. So, there’s a lot going on! Feeling pain in your middle back could be connected with any of these, but there are several common causes that are helpful to investigate first.
As we get older, back pain – like so many other ailments – becomes more common. It’s a naturally-occurring pain in adults aged 30 – 60, who experience a reduction in muscle mass, thinning bones and have less fluid between their spinal joints.
An increase in weight increases the risk of middle back pain. Obesity puts extra strain on muscles, bones and ligaments.
Any form of arthritis, and particularly osteoarthritis, can cause middle back pain as the disease breaks down the cartilage in joints, encouraging bones to rub together, which can lead to pain, swelling and stiffness.
Fracture or sprain
Usually caused by a fall or sports injuries, painful fractures can occur in the middle back. Sprains are more likely to be the result of a repetitive activity that puts pressure on the area’s muscles and ligaments. Both injuries require medical attention.
Often called slipped disks, this painful condition can result in tingling or numbness in the middle back as the herniated disk puts pressure on the surrounding nerves.
Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones and makes them brittle. It may also cause strains or compression fractures in the middle back.
Slouching increases pressure on the back and shoulders and can lead to strained muscles as they work extra hard to keep you balanced. Poor posture is the leading cause of back pain.
Easing your middle-back pain symptoms
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, middle back pain can strike. Here are some of the most common ways you can ease middle back pain:
Home remedies for middle back pain
Because back pain generally is quite common, there are some simple home remedies that can really help to relieve symptoms. These include:
- Ice and heat – icing the area, and then applying heat can provide immediate relief.
- Painkillers – taking pain medication like paracetamol will help to alleviate the pain. Over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen will also help to reduce any swelling.
- Stretches – stretching or activities like yoga, help to strengthen the back muscles.
- BioWaveGO – a simple 30-minute treatment can block middle back pain symptoms for up to eight hours, without the use of drugs.
Medical treatment for middle back pain
If home remedies aren’t helping with back pain after 72 hours, it’s prudent to see your doctor who will be able to recommend other treatments:
- Physical therapy – working with a physiotherapist to increase your movement and improve your posture.
- Prescription pain drugs – stronger opioid painkillers may prevent pain in the short term but can become addictive and are not recommended for chronic pain by NICE3
- Chiropractic assistance – a chiropractor will be able to manipulate the painful area to assist treating the condition.
- Steroid injections – if the pain is very severe, your doctor may prescribe steroid injections.
- Surgery – in extreme cases, your doctor may recommend surgery. This is an intense undertaking and recovery sometimes take several months.
Adjusting your posture
It’s possible to prevent some middle back pain simply by adjusting your posture in the following ways:
- Change your sleeping position – if you sleep on your back, try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees to encourage better posture.
- Improve your core strength – see a physical therapist or take up yoga or Pilates to keep your back straight and your spine healthy.
- Start practising correct posture:
- Stand tall with shoulders back.
- Take regular breaks from sitting, especially if doing something repetitive like playing the piano or writing.
- Get a standing desk if you spend a lot of time at a computer screen.
How to sit with middle back pain
If you’re required to spend a lot of time during the day, there are ways to prevent your middle-back pain from taking over:
- Lower your chair height so that your feet are flat on the ground.
- Work hard not to slouch – a high backed chair will help.
- Place something soft like a rolled-up towel in the small of your back to keep your spine straight.
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- NHS England : https://www.england.nhs.uk/blog/charles-greenough/
- University of Michigan (Michigan Medicine) https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aba5320
- NICE: https://www.nice.org.uk/news/article/nice-recommends-range-of-effective-treatments-for-people-with-chronic-primary-pain-and-calls-on-healthcare-professionals-to-recognise-and-treat-a-person-s-pain-as-valid-and-unique-to-them