Upper back & Neck Pain

Your neck supports the weight and movement of your head - quite a job, since an adult's head can weigh between 4.5 - 6.3kgs! It also contains the vast majority of nerves that reach from your brain to the rest of your body, like a pipe full of fiber optic cable. With the amount of driving, computer work and TV watching that most of us do, it's not surprising that we may need a little chiropractic to help keep our necks doing their job properly. Most people do not realize how much they move their neck during the day until they are unable to do so. The degree of flexibility of the neck, coupled with the weight of the head, means that the neck is very susceptible to injury. You can picture your neck and head much like a bowling ball being held on top of a stick by small, thin, elastic bands. It doesn’t take much force to disrupt that delicate balance.

The spinal cord runs through a space in the vertebrae to send nerve impulses to every part of the body. Between each pair of cervical vertebrae, the spinal cord sends off large bundles of nerves that run down the arms and to some degree, the upper back. This means that if your arm is hurting, it may actually be a problem in the neck! Symptoms in the arms can include numbness, tingling, cold, aching, and “pins and needles”.

These symptoms can be confused with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition in the hands that is often found in people who work at computer keyboards or perform other repetitive motion tasks for extended periods. Problems in the neck can also contribute to headaches, muscle spasms in the shoulders and upper back, ringing in the ears, otitis media (inflammation in the middle ear, often mistaken for an ear infection in children), temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), restricted range of motion and chronic tightness in the neck and upper back.

We associate the neck and upper back together, because most of the muscles that are 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 and the scalenes, as well as others.

Better Neck Posture

The further away from your body you hold something, the heavier it feels. Neck pain may often be caused by the long-term effect of bad posture, especially when you regularly hold a weight too far from your body. This may be:

  • The weight of your head, as you bend over a desk
  • Lifting babies and children
  • Carrying shopping or golf clubs into or out of the back of your car
  • Manual work
Pinched Nerve in Neck

Loss of proper joint movement may cause irritation of the nerves that come out of your spine. This, in turn, can lead to pain where the nerves end. This is known as 'referred' pain. You may already know about sciatica, which is leg pain often caused by nerve irritation in the lower spine. Brachialgia means 'pain in the arm', and may be caused by nerve irritation in the neck. This way your neck may be treated when you have only consulted your chiropractor about a shoulder and arm problem, which can include:

  • Frozen shoulder,
  • Tendonitis,
  • Tennis elbow,
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
Causes of Neck and Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain is caused by a combination of factors, including injury, poor posture, chiropractic subluxations, stress, and in some instances, disc problems.


By far, the most common injury to the neck is a whiplash injury. Whiplash is caused by a sudden movement of the head, backward, forward, or sideways, that results in the damage to the supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back.

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

Poor Posture

One of the most common causes of neck pain, and sometimes headaches, is poor posture. It’s easy to get into bad posture habits without even realizing it - even an activity as “innocent” as reading in bed can ultimately lead to pain, headaches, and more serious problems. The basic rule is simple: keep your neck in a “neutral” position whenever possible. Don’t bend or hunch your neck forward for long periods. Also, try not to sit in one position for a long time. If you must sit for an extended period, make sure your posture is good: Keep your head in a neutral position, make sure your back is supported, keep your knees slightly lower than your hips, and rest your arms if possible.


Subluxations in the neck and upper back area are extremely common due to the high degree of stress associated with holding up your head, coupled with the high degree of instability in the cervical spine. Most subluxations tend to be centered around four areas: the top of the cervical spine where it meets the skull; in the middle of the cervical spine where the mechanical stress from the head is the greatest; in the transition where the cervical and thoracic areas of the spine meet; and in the middle of the thoracic spine where the mechanical stress from the weight of the upper body is greatest. Signs of subluxation include looking in the mirror and seeing your head tilted or one shoulder higher than the other. Often women will notice that their sleeve length is different or that a necklace is hanging off center. If someone 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 who are stooped over their computers all day long. Subluxations are a debt to the body. If they are not taken care of soon after they occur, then they can get much worse over time.


When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract their muscles, in particular, the muscles in their back. This ‘muscle guarding’ is a survival response designed to guard against injury and muscle guarding may occur whenever we become emotionally stressed. The areas most affected involve the muscles of the neck, upper back and low back. For most of us, the particular muscle affected by stress is the trapezius muscle, where daily stress usually leads to chronic tightness and the development of trigger points.

The two most effective ways you can reduce the physical effects of stress on your own are to increase your activity level – exercise – and by deep breathing exercises. When you decrease the physical effects of stress, you can substantially reduce the amount of tightness and pain in your upper back and neck.

Disc Herniations

The discs in your cervical spine can herniate or bulge and put pressure on the nerves that exit from the spine through that area. Although cervical discs do not herniate nearly as often as lumbar discs do, they occasionally can herniate, especially when the discs sustain damage from a whiplash injury. Contact us today!

Is it Safe to Adjust the Neck?

Yes, 66-69% of visits to a chiropractor include cervical (neck) adjustments. Recent publications suggest that chiropractic treatment is extremely safe, when carried out by a skilled individual.

Is rolling your head good for your neck?

No. Many people in the past have been given neck or head rolling exercises to help stretch their necks. As mentioned in the beginning the weight of the head is substantial so rolling the neck forward places more strain on the joints, ligaments and tendons in your neck then contracting muscles to roll the head backwards puts pressure down on these structures which you have just strained. Better and safer movements to do would be single ones like turning or looking up, down, left or right - not all of these movements together.

Some tips for a healthier neck Proper Lifting Technique

Another cause of neck pain is poor lifting technique. People often think of the lower back as the area at risk, but the cervical region is nearly as vulnerable. Here is the correct way to lift:

  • Stand up straight and close to the object;
  • Bend at your hips and knees, keeping your back in the neutral position and your head and shoulders up;
  • Firmly grasp the object and rise up with your hip and leg muscles;
  • Keep the object close to your body. Your hips and legs absorb most of the weight, and you will put less strain on your back and neck.
  • The feet should be positioned shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other.

In addition, you may find that placing one foot forward and one foot back may be easier than trying to lift an object from the "squatting" position.