As it’s behind you, you often don’t give much thought to your back until it starts aching. Then, your back is all you can think about. Considering that back pain leads to missed work and disability, one can see how important it is to address lingering back issues, and to take preventative measures to prevent future issues.

While the upper back is less prone to chronic pain than the lower back, thoracic pain can still debilitate you, and care must be taken to protect your upper back.

This article will discuss the issues that can lead to back pain, as well as how taking steps to fight this pain, such as having a shoulder massager, can aid in the prevention and alleviation of this pain.

Where Does Back Pain Originate, and What can be done?

With all forms of chronic pain, back pain comes from repeated behaviors that place strain on specific parts of the back. As far as upper back issues go, pain can come from a variety of issues:

  • Overuse and strain of the muscles and ligaments in the upper back.
  • Poor posture.
  • An actual spinal issue (pinched nerves, herniated discs, fractured vertebrae, bone spurs)
  • Gallstones
  • Chronic illnesses such as arthritis and some forms of cancer

Upper back pain can lead to other health issues, such as weakness and numbness in extremities, or even loss of bowel control.

While only consulting with a medical professional can aid with most of the above listed causes, the majority of upper back pain issues can be resolved at home through over the counter medications and some lifestyle changes.

The best way to prevent back pain is to take care to maintain as good a posture as you can. When sitting, keep your shoulders back. You may wish to try unclenching your jaw as well, as this can help reduce stress and make it easier for you to keep good posture. While standing, keep your weight equally distributed on both feet when possible.

Regular exercise can help as well, as a large portion of back pain can come from inactivity. 30 minutes of physical exercise a day (core exercises such as planks, pull-ups, and squats can work wonders for this purpose, if done correctly) can help you to fight back pain by strengthening those muscles, as well as by reducing the amount of weight you have on your back.

Naturally, a healthy diet can also help in reducing pain. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can provide the body with polyphenols, an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Fatty fish can contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Regardless of the steps you take, you may find yourself dealing with back pain at some point in your life. For dealing with the pain that will come, over the counter pain relievers can work for relief, as can applying cold and heat.

Another option for relief of upper back pain is massage.

How massage helps with upper back tension

Massage is a low-risk, non-invasive treatment that has been shown to speed recovery from a back pain flare-up, among numerous other touted health benefits, more quickly than not receiving a massage. But how does it work?

Strangely, medical science is unclear as to exactly why massages work so well. One theory suggests that massage stimulates the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve whose functions affect many of the body’s functions; heart rate, sweating, and even speech are all affected by this nerve. This would explain why massages tend to relax the person being massaged.

Another theory, gate control theory, suggests that spots on the body which do not have pain receptors can be touched to inhibit pain. Some elements of this theory can also be seen in acupuncture.

Other theories abound, including that the increased blood flow post-massage aids in recovery, but regardless of which theory is accurate, studies have repeatedly shown that massages work in a way greater than can be explained away by placebo effect.

Receiving a professional massage, while extremely beneficial, may not be cost effective for the average person. This is why a booming industry of home massage products exists to grant the average person some of the benefits of a full massage.

When looking at options for massage, you may wish to consider a personal massage tool.

Options for Shoulder Massage

While the amount of options for at-home massage tools has increased significantly over the past few decades, the general concept is the same; aim for the spot that hurts, and give it a good rub. But the issue of what gives the best amount of relief and engagement remains.

The most inexpensive option to reach back there is a tennis ball. As unorthodox as this may sound, tennis balls have been used for years for at-home massage due to their portability, their ubiquity in the average home, and their low cost. Numerous exercises exist to massage one’s self with a tennis ball.

Interestingly, some companies have attempted to add to the tennis ball massage experience by creating massage balls with extra protrusions to aid in applying extra pressure, different materials to aid in massaging different areas, and even some vibrating capabilities!

For a more thorough massage experience, you may consider purchasing a foam roller. While more expensive than a tennis ball, a foam roller is also excellent at engaging muscles, and in providing pain relief.

If you are willing to experiment with massage, however, more high tech options exist. At least one Shiatsu massage machine exists which focuses explicitly on the shoulders. While Shiatsu massage has been used for generations in Japan, scholarly research is still somewhat limited. However, Shiatsu is somewhat parallel to the gate theory of pain, which suggests that some points in the body, often referred to as acupressure points, can be activated through touch to cause pain relief in other, seemingly unrelated areas of the body.

Some other specialty tools exist that massage the shoulders, but these can have limited utility, and may not be as effective as a general massager. Be careful to read the reviews if you are seeking a shoulder massager, as not all massagers are created equal.

One thing to look out for is any massager which uses vibration. Vibration therapy has been suggested by numerous scholarly papers to offer health benefits akin (though not exactly equal) to that of a professional massage. But vibration alone may not be enough to see real benefits.

As the body becomes accustomed to vibration, the effects lessen and the body part becomes numb. While this may be useful in some circumstances, this does not necessarily solve the underlying issues that required massage in the first place.

An exciting new concept in massage, percussion therapy, has emerged within the past few years. Percussion therapy takes the general concept of vibration therapy and adds a percussive element. This can best be displayed by the massage gun.

The average massage gun will operate a pivoting massage head, which pivots at roughly 18-40 hertz (that means it makes impact roughly 18 to 40 times per second), with an average distance of roughly 16 millimeters. The principle behind percussive therapy is that the constant pummeling by the massage head continues to keep the muscles engaged while providing many of the benefits of vibration therapy.

While percussion therapy is still fairly new (with the first massage gun hitting the market in 2016), results have been promising for early adopters, and several fitness enthusiasts have already worked massage guns into their regular routine.

While solid foam rollers and tennis balls may be roughly universal across the board, most mechanical devices must be judged on their individual merits. Careful research is required to determine what will work best. As far as massage guns, for example, a median price for a quality massage gun would start at $250.00; most massage guns that are less expensive than that will usually have less refined features and less of a chance of lasting for an extended period.

Consistency is key

Regardless of what massage option you choose, whether you choose a high end massage gun or a humble tennis ball, the most important factor is consistency. The benefits from one massage session are great, of course, but you must incorporate massage into your everyday life if you wish to see long-term, sustainable benefits.

Be willing to devote at least 5-10 minutes daily to self-massage, as this will guarantee you get at least some benefits from massage. While this may seem like a large investment of time, the benefits that will be reaped will make the quality of the rest of your time much greater.

Also, you should consider fitting into your budget and schedule a visit to a professional masseuse; while masseuse visits can be expensive, a professional is likely to be much better at hitting problem areas than you are, and will be able to address issues you may not have considered.

Sources:

1: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

2: https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/sore-back-try-a-massage

3: https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/why-does-my-middle-and-upper-back-hurt

4: https://time.com/5085140/massage-health-benefits/

5: https://news.usc.edu/146476/how-to-give-yourself-a-massage-and-alleviate-nagging-back

6: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3200172/