What causes that achy feeling in your neck and upper back?  More importantly, what can you do to get rid of it?

When muscles get stretched too far too often, they complain.  That aching feeling in your upper back and neck muscles is giving you a message:  “Quit Stretching Me, Already, Okay?  Hey, Are You Listening?  Or Do I Have To Get Louder?”

But muscles can’t really talk so they send messages along the pain telegraph.

So what exactly are you doing to stretch those back and neck muscles too much too often?  Here’s how:

When you were little you had perfect posture.  Your head was most likely directly over your body, exactly where it was supposed to be.  Your muscles were happy.

Then you started sitting in school and maybe your desks over the years didn’t fit too well so you slouched or you were getting “too tall.”  And maybe you spent a lot of time in front of the television on a couch or chair that made your head move forward (as many do.)  And you probably drove or rode in a car that did the same (as they mostly do.)

Maybe you played lots of video games or worked at a computer or some job in a poor posture position.

So your heavy head started getting used to the idea of being in front of your body instead of perfectly over your body.

Your muscles were designed to support your head over your body.  They were NOT designed to hold your head out in front of your body.  That’s hard work for them!

And once your posture starts to collapse–your heavy head is in front of you–then it becomes easier for gravity to pull that heavy head closer and closer to your knees.  Yikes!  Not good.

And, that, in a nutshell, is how the muscles in your upper back get strained.


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13 Comments on Common Causes of Upper Back Muscle Strain

  1. Twitter Tweets about upper back pain as of July 8, 2010 | BACK PAIN TWEETS says:

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  4. chris morris says:

    i have lowe back pain about all the time i have knots that comes out all the time and i have pain inbetween my sholder all the time i take somas 3 times aday

  5. I’m sorry to hear about your pain, Chris. I hope you will take lots of time to read about the causes of upper and lower back pain. When you understand why your body hurts then you will have a good chance of getting rid of lots of your pain.

    I hope you will look into therapeutic massage, too. It is amazing how much difference massage by a knowledgeable therapist can make for back pain.

    Soma is a muscle relaxer. It may help mask your symptoms but it doesn’t get rid of them.

    Please look at all of the articles here and elsewhere about natural back pain relief. I want you to feel better.

    And thank you for writing! Kathryn

  6. chris morris says:

    thanks for the reply. i have to go get a MRIon Wen to see whats going on. is that a good thing?

  7. Hi Chris. It’s never a bad thing to get an opinion “just in case” and as I understand it, MRI’s are a pretty safe test. But–if it’s posture or muscle issues–you may get the good news that nothing showed up in the test. That doesn’t mean you are not having pain. But it’s good news regardless because muscles and posture can be corrected. I hope this helps!

  8. Debbie says:

    Hello, I am a 55 yr. old female with poor posture. Last October, I noticed pain in my right scapula. Pain over time, shoots down the side of my back. Went to my Dr. and ended up in the E.R. and had x-rays, blood work, and bone scan. Everything came out “fine”. I also noticed at the time of my bone scan, that I can’t lift my left arm over my head. That’s scary. Still having pain on right side and left shoulder and arm. My job at the time, required alot of reaching with my right arm. I remember that I had also picked up a 60lb. bag of mortar. I have been going to chiropractors since. Both have given me exercises to do. I used to sleep with my arm under my head laying on my right side. I now sleep on my back which is hard to get used to. I bought a memory foam pillow for the head and neck. I pray all the time the this will go away. I have been trying to remember to keep my shoulders back and sit straight. I just hope it’s not too late. Do you think that I will ever recover?

  9. Dear Debbie,

    You bet I believe you will recover!

    Over time, your muscles have started to complain and to get ‘out of balance’. Some became shorter and tighter than others (probably mostly in the front.) Others became weak and a bit too stretched. That happens.

    And your pain is a message that something is wrong. You already told me you know the problem. 🙂 (Posture.)

    And the tests came out fine. That pretty much narrows it down to muscles. And that’s good news because muscles are treatable.

    Muscles respond well to stretching when the correct muscles are stretched. They also respond very well to massage therapy.

    It’s much easier to keep your posture straight when you have a strong back. Please go to http://SimpleStrengthening.com There you will find lots of articles that will give you easy ways to strengthen your back and correct your posture.

    Those exercises are so simple that you can do them in bed!

    Sometimes it’s easier to get used to sleeping on your back if you tuck pillows around your sides to keep you from rolling much. I had to train myself to sleep on my back, too.

    The memory foam pillow was a good purchase. I’m guessing it’s the shaped one that helps hold your neck up a bit and has space for your head?

    Over time, your body will adjust to the new positions and the new movements.

    Try this: Stand or sit up straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together. If that doesn’t feel good, it’s because you are using your muscles in a new way that they don’t quite remember yet. But that simple move helps strengthen those muscles.

    If you can manage to have massage therapy, it will help a lot. If you go to the Category for Massage at http://SimplePainRelief.com you will find an article about how to find a massage therapist who can really help you. Yes, there is an expense but a good massage therapist will be well worth it.

    Check out the Category for Videos there, too. You will find simple things to do that will help. (The Categories are on the right hand side.)

    Debbie, Thank you for writing. I hope you find hope and help in this message. I believe you can get rid of the pain in your arm, scapula and back naturally and that you will feel better all over.

    The Pain Relief Coach

  10. Clarence says:

    I get these spasms which seem like they are under my right scapula. They feel like muscles cramping which I get in my legs often. I work as an entertainer on the Grand Canyon Railway and do a lot of walking on a moving train. As a result, I’ve been getting cramps in the strangest places, like the front of my shins, the sides of my feet, and the hip. I also started with the spasms when I transplanted a butterfly bush and had to hold it at one time with my right hand and arm. It did not hurt outright but later on in the day I started feeling it. My right shoulder needs to be replaced, I’ve been told by professionals, because of a torn rotator cuff, bone spurs, and osteo-arthritus. I’ve been given medication which I’m reluctant to take, one, being Naproxin, and the other, Tramadol. They both work but I’m reluctant to take any substantial amount because of what could result. Any suggestions? Also, I’ve had blood work done for other reasons and they say the results are normal.

  11. Hi Clarence, Here are my best long distance thoughts about your various aches and pains. It’s good that the tests show nothing because that generally means muscles and muscles are treatable naturally.

    From this distance it sounds like the muscles in your buttocks are “tight.” That would be from trying to keep you balance.

    I see you are a guitarist. Holding a guitar can also cause upper back strain because your head and shoulders are forward while working. It can also cause you to lose the natural small curve in your low back (like toddlers have.) And when your lower back flattens or rounds outward in the lower part, that causes pressure on nerves which can cause the type of symptoms in your legs, hips and feet that you describe. And it can also cause buttock muscles to become tight from working too hard. Nerves pass through the buttock muscles, if they are tight they will press on the nerves and, again, that can cause painful sensations in the hip and legs.

    If doctors took x-rays of any of us, most of us would have bone spurs or signs of osteoarthritis. But those things are not always the cause of pain or joint restriction. Most of the time it’s just muscles.

    I’m always reluctant to take medicine, too, because of all of the side effects, but when injured, I have discovered that just one dose of sodium naproxin (over the counter) makes a huge difference. If one or two doses the cycle and you don’t have to take it again for several days (until you aggravate the shoulder again) that might work for you. Be sure to drink lots of water whenever you take meds. Some people take just a sip; that’s not enough.

    Massage is excellent medicine. In your situation, you don’t want just a nice, relaxation massage. And you don’t want “deep tissue.” (Because that may not address the CAUSES. It is often mis-used.)

    Find a therapist who does neuromuscular massage therapy or neurosomatic therapy. If they were trained by Paul St. John, that’s good. There are also other versions of NMT that could be very helpful. Rolfing is another possible option for your muscle pain relief. The therapies I name here look for and treat the cause of your pain and don’t just blast away on painful areas. When you get rid of the causes, you can get rid of the pain.

    Also, I would suggest working to strengthen your back and the muscles in the back of your neck. Can you look down with your eyes only rather than tipping your head down? I’d like to see you get that toddler curve back into your lower back, too. The therapists I mentioned can help you do that, too.

    If you have to self-treat, Clarence, go to http://budurl.com/PainRelief2 to find my list of great self-help pain relief books. They won’t cost much and will enable you to be your own therapist. 🙂 Especially the blue book by Claire Davies would be good to help you get rid of your back muscle pain, shoulder pain and leg pains.

    The Pain Relief Coach

  12. Wendy schweitzer says:

    I have a history of cervicogenic headaches.they used to be severe but found a Nero that diagnosed me finally
    And gave me muscle relaxers. I only take if needed. Also go to pt which helps a lot
    Have nt been in awhile. Going back tomorrow. Lately headaches have come back
    Not as severe, but they come in flare ups I guess. I sit behind a computer for
    5 hours a day everyday too which does nt help I know. I have kyphosis since around 14 also.
    Tmj, problems too. I get depressed sometimes and feel like ill never get better. I know I do have 3 mths at a time with no headaches, but I guess I have to be diligent about except use. I have all the books, yoga, Peter egos cue, and Janet travell. Any hope or suggestions?????
    Thanks in advance,
    Wendy schweitzer

  13. Hi Wendy,

    Don’t get depressed. Bodies heal all the time and sometimes just a little knowledge and action can get rid of headaches naturally.

    This is a time-sensitive reply because I have just finished writing a book called Head Pain Natural Relief. It is published on amazon as a Kindle book. And the best part is, it is available free from now until Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 so grab it!

    Here’s the link to the book page:


    If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry, because you can get a free Kindle reader app at amazon.

    Yes, you do have to be diligent. When one is prone to headaches, it doesn’t take much aggravation to set them off. (I know from experience.)

    I have an impression that you are young. That’s good because your bones and muscles are still able to move and correct. Wendy, your poor posture is causing you a host of problems including the headaches and the jaw pain.

    You are reading the right things, doing pretty much the right things but maybe not on a regular basis, and maybe something in my book will be exactly what you need. Three months at a time with no headaches really is impressive! But head pain in downright depressing. 🙁

    But don’t give up hope. You must take action and keep taking action. That’s what your body wants you to do. 🙂

    Thank you for writing and I hope those miserable headaches are gone soon!

    The Pain Relief Coach