Neck Pain and Upper Back Pain

Problems in the neck can 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, tennis elbow and chronic tightness in the neck and upper back.

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.

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 fact that it has the least amount of muscular stabilization and it has to support and move your 10-12 pound head, means that the neck is very susceptible to injury.

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 and control 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.

At our office we perform testing to rule out other sources of neck and arm pain including vascular issues. We utilize manual diagnostic orthopedic, neurological and vascular tests that indicate if your problem is outside the scope of Chiropractic and refer you to specialists when necessary. We work with many MD and non-MD specialists to help you with your problem.

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.


Injuries can range from simple sprain/strain to more severe forms of whiplash. Sport related injuries, repetitive stress injuries and exercise-related injuries are all very common to the Chiropractic practice.

Poor Posture / Forward Head Posture

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. 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.


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. If they are not taken care of soon after they occur, then they can get much worse over time due to the accumulation of compounding interest.


When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract the muscles in their back. This ‘muscle guarding’ is a survival response designed to guard against injury. In today’s world where we are not exposed to physical danger most of the time, muscle guarding still occurs whenever we become emotionally stressed. The areas most affected are the muscles of the neck, upper back and low back.

Disc Herniation

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.

Additional Risk Factors

  • A decrease in bone strength and muscle elasticity (perhaps due to scar tissue build up)
  • Discs losing their fluid and flexibility (which decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae)
  • Arthritis (which can cause constant inflammation of the spine)
  • Degeneration or osteoporosis
  • Stress related muscle tightness
  • Obesity, smoking, stress, poor physical condition, posture inappropriate for the activity being performed, and poor sleeping position also may contribute to neck pain