Neck and Upper Back Pain

You may not realize how much you move your neck every day. Most people don’t, until they are unable to do so!

Your neck’s normal flexibility, without much in the way of muscular stabilization, combined with the fact that it has to support and move your head (14 to 16 pounds), makes it very susceptible to injury. You could picture your head and neck as a bowling ball held on top of a stick by small, thin elastic bands. It wouldn’t take much force to disrupt that delicate balance.

Neck Pain

Injury, poor posture, subluxations, stress, or disc problems cam cause pain in the neck or upper back.

Confusing Symptoms

If your arm is hurting – with symptoms such as numbness, tingling, cold, aching, or “pins and needles” –  there may actually be a problem with your neck!  How does this work?

  1. The spinal cord runs through a space found in each of the vertebrae and sends nerve impulses to every part of the body.
  2. Between each pair of cervical (neck) vertebrae, the spinal cord sends off large bundles of nerves that run down the arms and, to some degree, to the upper back.
  3. This means that if your arm or upper back is hurting, it may be a result of a problem in the neck!

These arm symptoms can also be confused with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful hand condition sometimes suffered by computer typists or others who perform repetitive motions for extended periods of time.

Additionally, problems originating in the neck can contribute to headaches; ringing in the ears; otitis media (inflammation in the middle ear, often mistaken for an ear infection in children); temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ); tightness or spasms in the neck, shoulder, or upper back; or a restricted range of motion.

Problems of the neck and upper back go together, because most of the muscles associated with the neck either attach to, or are located in, the upper back. These muscles include the trapezius, the levator scapulae, the cervical paraspinal muscles, the scalenes, and others.

Causes of Neck and Upper Back Pain

Most neck and upper back pain is caused by a combination of factors, including: injury, poor posture, chiropractic subluxations, stress, and (in some instances) disc problems.


The most common injury to the neck (by far) is a whiplash injury, caused by a sudden movement of the head – either backward, forward, or sideways – that results in damage to supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back. Whiplash injuries should be taken very seriously, whether resulting from a car accident, sports, or an accident at work, because the symptoms can take weeks or months to manifest, so it is easy to be fooled into thinking you are not as injured as you really are. Too often, a person doesn’t seek treatment when they have had a car or sports accident, because they don’t feel hurt. By the time more serious complications have time to develop, some damage from the injury may have become permanent.

Numerous studies have shown that, years after whiplash victims have settled their insurance claims, approximately half of them say they still suffer symptoms from their accident. If you have been in a motor vehicle, or any other kind of,  accident, don’t assume you escaped injury because you are not currently in much pain. Get it checked out by a good chiropractor!

Poor posture causes neck pain

Forward head posture is very common in people stooped over their computers for long periods. If not taken care of with chiropractic care, subluxations like this can worsen over time.

Poor Posture

Poor posture is one of the most common causes of neck pain; it can even bring on headaches. It’s far too easy to form bad posture habits without realizing it; even an activity as innocent as reading in bed can lead to pain, headaches, and more serious problems in the long run.

The basic rule is simple: Keep your neck balanced in a “neutral” position whenever possible, without bending or hunching it forward for long periods. Also, try not to sit in one position for a long time and, if you must sit for an extended period, make sure your posture is proper. Follow these simple rules:

  1. Keep your head in a neutral position.
  2. Make sure your back is supported.
  3. Keep your knees slightly lower than your hips.
  4. If possible, rest your arms.


Two factors make subluxations in the neck and upper back area extremely common. Firstly, there is the high degree of stress involved in simply holding up your head. The other factor is the instability of the spine in the region of the neck.

Most subluxations tend to be centered around four areas:

  1. The top of the cervical spine where it meets the skull
  2. In the middle of the cervical spine, where the mechanical stress from the head is the greatest
  3. In the transition where the cervical and thoracic areas of the spine meet
  4. In the middle of the thoracic spine, where the mechanical stress from the weight of the upper body is greatest

To look for signs of subluxation, look in the mirror and see if your head appears tilted or one shoulder appears higher than the other. You may notice that your two sleeve lengths are different or that a necklace is hanging off center. If someone else looks at you from the side, they may notice that your head sits forward from your shoulders. (This is known as FHP – forward head posture – and is very common for people stooped over their computers all day long!)

Subluxations are a liability to the body. If they are not taken care of soon after they occur, they can get much worse over time, with the accumulation of compounding interest.


Most people unconsciously contract their muscles when they feel stressed, in particular, their back muscles. This is known as muscle guarding, a survival reponse designed to guard against injury. Muscle guarding still occurs in today’s world, even though we are not often exposed to physical danger; we do it when we become emotionally stressed. The muscles of the neck, upper back and low back are the areas most affected. The particular muscle affected by stress for most of us is the trapezius muscle; muscle guarding of the trapezius can lead, over time, to chronic tightness and the development of trigger points.

The two most effective ways you can reduce the effects of stress on your body, on your own, are by increasing your activity level – exercise – and by deep breathing. Once you succeed in reducing the physical effects of stress, you’ll find you have substantially reduced the amount of tightness and pain in your upper back and neck.

Disc Herniations

Your cervical spine has discs that can herniate or bulge; this puts pressure on the nerves that exit from the spine through that area. Although this doesn’t happen nearly as often with cervical discs as it does for lumbar discs, they occasionally can herniate, especially when they sustain damage from a whiplash injury. Contact us today!