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Different types of upper back pain

Different types of upper back pain
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Backaches can be an annoyance – or they can sideline you for days. Here’s how to tell if upper back pain is run-of-the-mill or an emergency.

It may be your desk job

It may be your desk job
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Slouch much? “Upper back pain is most commonly from poor posture,” says emergency doctor, Dr Irene Tien. Sitting and staring at a computer “shortens chest muscles and pulls on the muscles in the upper back. A lot of people get a muscle spasm between the shoulder blades as a result,” she explains.

Ease your back pain with these 5 easy ways to improve your posture.

It could also be stress

It could also be stress
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Along with sub-par posture, strain in the muscles around the neck and shoulders or between the shoulder blades can be multi-factorial, says interventional pain management specialist, Dr Kaliq Chang. Most notably: stress, strenuous exercise, and sleeping with your neck in a weird position.

A great way to beat stress is to meditate. Read on to teach yourself to meditate and beat stress.

What you can do

What you can do
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“A typical episode of muscle strain usually lasts only a few days,” explains Dr Chang. Staying comfortable during this time is key. He suggests resting, icing, taking anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen.

These foods contain anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce pain.

When to go to the doctor

When to go to the doctor
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You can’t always assume the discomfort is no big deal. “If pain lingers for more than a few days or requires regular pain medications” you should be evaluated by your physician, says assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and physical medicine and rehabilitation, Dr Leda Ghannad. Another sign: if the pain limits your abilities in your day-to-day life, like you have to call off work to stay in bed.

These signs indicate your back pain is actually an emergency.

The ache won’t go away

The ache won’t go away
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You’ve tried the DIY treatments, gotten massages, and maybe even bought a new mattress. If your upper back pain is persistently hurting, it may – very rarely – be a sign of a lung tumour. The American Cancer Society points out that advanced lung cancer may contribute to bone pain. Weight loss, chest pain and weakness are also signs of lung cancer. If your back pain hasn’t gone away and wakes you up at night, see your doctor.

 

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You were in a car accident

You were in a car accident
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If you’re able to walk away from a rear end crash and feel OK, you may decide not to get checked out by a doctor. However, whiplash – a violent backward-and-forward jerk of the head – can create “tears and inflammation of the muscles and ligaments in the neck and upper back,” explains Dr Chang. See your doctor if you suspect whiplash, especially if you have other symptoms like fatigue, dizziness and pain in your neck.

You feel pain in the side, too

You feel pain in the side, too
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Anyone who’s had a kidney stone knows they’re quite agonising – and they may cause upper back pain, says Dr Ghannad. It’s unlikely that this is the only kidney stone you’ll notice though. You may also feel severe pain in your side and back below your ribs, the Mayo Clinic notes. Discomfort while peeing or red- or brown-hued urine may be other clues. The best advice? “If pain is severe and persistent, it’s a good idea to be evaluated by a physician,” says Ghannad. Feel pain on your right side, under the shoulder blade? You may have a gallbladder issue, and need to see your doctor.

Here are some innocent mistakes that put your kidneys in trouble.

You have a fever

You have a fever
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The flu may be going around – but this isn’t any old illness. In certain instances, severe back pain with an accompanying fever or numbness or tingling in your arms can be from a spinal infection, points out Dr Tien. This condition is very rare, but some risk factors are if you’re immunosuppressed, have cancer or diabetes, or are obese. If your doctor thinks you may have a spinal infection, they may order an X-ray, CT or MRI scan to help make the diagnosis. You’ll need to go to a hospital for intravenous antibiotics.

The pain is searing through your chest, too

The pain is searing through your chest, too
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Numbness or weakness in your arms can be one sign of a stroke – or it may also be an indication of a tear in the wall of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in your body that runs in the back of your chest, says Dr Tien. She adds that you’re especially at risk if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure over a long period of time. “This can cause a tearing mid-chest and/or back pain,” she describes. Just like a stroke, this is an emergency that requires immediate medical care.

Do you know how to act ‘FAST’ if you sense a stroke?

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