Upper Back Pain and Gas

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Getting to the Root of Upper Back Pain and Gas

Take a deep breath and notice how your chest rises and your shoulders pull back. Now focus on the area between your shoulder blades - that spot right in the middle of your upper back. Do you feel any tightness or discomfort there as you inhale? Does a stubborn ache seem to take hold in that spot at the end of a long day? 

You're definitely not in the minority. In fact, a good portion of modern adults deal with bothersome thoracic back pain at some point. While an aching upper back may seem like a simple nuisance, it often signals something more complex. 

Trapped gas and bloating are some of the most surprising culprits of upper back discomfort. This overlooked connection could be the key to finding real relief if you find yourself frequently rubbing that spot between your shoulder blades.

The Subtle Relationship Between Gas and Back Pain

On the surface, it may seem utterly perplexing how gas and bloating in your intestines can translate into shoulder and upper back discomfort. But a basic understanding of anatomy reveals a clear, albeit unexpected, relationship.

The thoracic spine runs from the base of the neck down to the bottom of the ribs. On either side, nerves branch out through small openings between the vertebrae into the chest, abdominals, and back. This means tissues along the front and back of the torso share some common nerve supply. This, in turn, results in pain in unexpected places. 

  • When gas pockets build up in the digestive tract, they put outward pressure on the abdominal cavity. That added pressure can irritate nerves branching from the thoracic spine, triggering referred pain that surfaces along the upper back. 
  • Just as a pinched nerve in the back can cause pain to radiate to the front of the chest, intestinal gas distending the abdomen can conversely cause upper back discomfort.
  • Additionally, trapped wind and bloating force the abdominals to expand. This pushes the stomach upwards, which ends up crunching the thoracic spine into a more pronounced curvature that strains muscles between the shoulder blades. 
  • Much like poor posture slouching the upper back over time, the temporary distortion from abdominal bloating can lead to tightness and pain around the mid and upper spine. 

Given this interconnected nerve supply and muscle tension, intestinal gas puts the thoracic spine in the direct line of fire. Understanding this relationship is the first step to finding true relief. 

Common Causes of Gas Leading to Upper Back Pain

a woman suffering from upper back pain

While gas itself instigates discomfort, simply popping anti-gas meds fails to address the root causes. Getting to the source of the gas production helps treat the problem at its origin. 

Many of the common instigators likely sound familiar:

  1. Swallowing air while eating or drinking too fast. Carbonated beverages speed up this process of ingesting excess air, aka aerophagia.
  1. Food intolerances like lactose or gluten that the gut struggles to fully break down and digest.
  1. Gastrointestinal disorders like acid reflux or IBS that disrupt normal digestion.
  1. Artificial sweeteners found in sugar-free gum, diet soda, etc. that can ferment in the gut. 
  1. Stress and anxiety interfering with normal intestinal contractions and digestion.

Identifying and minimizing triggers provides long-term relief versus just masking symptoms. A food and common symptom diary can uncover problematic items, while strategies like mindfulness or talk therapy help address psychological stressors.  

Warning Signs: When Upper Back Pain Signals Something Serious

Most episodes of gas-related upper back pain quickly resolve on their own or with simple home remedies. But in some cases, thoracic back pain indicates an underlying condition requiring medical attention. Seek prompt evaluation if your upper back pain is accompanied by:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain that persists for several weeks
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • Fever, nausea, vomiting 
  • Bowel habit changes 
  • Pain that interferes with sleep or daily activities
  • Accompanied by severe pain, such as abdominal pain or stomach pain

While gastrointestinal issues account for many cases of upper back pain, heart, lung, and kidney problems can also spark thoracic and shoulder pain. Certain cancers also have upper back pain among their early warning signs. Along with a physical exam, your doctor may order imaging or bloodwork to rule out these more serious explanations.

Proven Ways to Find Upper Back Pain Relief 

Fortunately, most bouts of upper back discomfort caused by gas or digestive troubles can be managed at home through a combination of lifestyle measures, OTC meds, alternative therapies, and targeted stretches.

1. Dietary Changes to Minimize Gas

Preventing the gas formation itself provides long-lasting relief. Try:

  • Eliminating suspect foods through an elimination diet. Your body may not be able to tolerate spicy foods as well as others, for instance. 
  • Increasing gut-friendly fermented items like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut
  • Slowing down eating and avoiding straws to minimize air swallowing

2. Gas-Relieving Medications

Over-the-counter meds like simethicone help break up and dispel accumulated gas bubbles, providing rapid relief of pressure-related upper back pain, which some of us associate with gas pain.

For bloating and gas related to acid reflux, antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors reduce stomach acid production and GERD symptoms. Laxatives help alleviate constipation.

3. Hot and Cold Therapy

Alternating hot packs and cold compresses helps relax tense muscles and increase circulation to the upper back. Take a warm shower before bed or try microwavable heating wraps to ease muscle tightness.

4. Posture Correcting Exercises and Stretches 

Improving posture takes pressure off the thoracic spine and prevents slouching that exacerbates back tension. Target key areas with exercises like the following:

ExerciseHow to Perform
Shoulder rollsRotate shoulders forward and backward
Doorway chest stretchStand in doorway with arms extended, gently lean forward
Chin tucksDraw chin straight back bringing head into alignment
Wall angelsLean back against wall and raise arms overhead, sliding hands up and down
Cobra poseLying on stomach, push upper body up with arms extended
Child's poseKneel with hips over ankles, extend arms forward, lowering chest to thighs
Upper back rotationsClasp hands in front of chest, rotate upper body left and right
Mid-back foam roller stretchesRoll upper back over foam roller to massage muscles

5. Massage and Physical Therapy 

Seeing a massage therapist or physical therapist can provide hands-on pain relief. Techniques like spinal manipulation, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy loosen tight upper back muscles.

6. Stress Management and Relaxation Practices

Since mental strain can exacerbate digestive issues, activities like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy curb anxiety levels. This helps to relieve gas symptoms and subsequent back pain.  

When to Seek Medical Treatment for Persistent Upper Back Pain

Most individuals find relief from occasional gas-related upper back pain through conservative self-care and lifestyle adjustments. But if you develop worrisome symptoms or suffer from ongoing thoracic spine pain, seeking expert medical care is crucial.

A pain management specialist has more advanced options for stubborn cases of upper back discomfort that fails to resolve with standard treatment. After a diagnostic workup, targeted interventions can successfully ease your pain.

Options like epidural steroid injections, nerve blocks, and spinal cord stimulation alter pain signaling to provide lasting relief. Non-surgical orthopedic treatments, stem cell therapies, and PRP injections promote the healing of damaged tissues. For cases of upper back pain caused by specific spinal conditions, minimally invasive procedures can address the root cause.


center for upper back pain treatment

Upper back pain affects a large portion of the population at some point. But despite its familiarity, this stubborn discomfort often indicates complex underlying problems, like gas and digestive issues putting pressure on the thoracic spine. 

While frustrating, upper back pain sparked by trapped flatulence and bloating usually responds well to a combination of lifestyle measures, OTC meds, alternative therapies, and targeted stretches. Paying attention to dietary triggers provides lasting relief by reducing gas production at its source.

In most cases, conservative self-care resolves occasional gas-related back pain. But if you continue experiencing worrisome upper back discomfort or pain that persists for several weeks, seek medical attention. A pain specialist has advanced interventions to provide lasting relief from stubborn upper back pain - so you can take a deep breath once again without that annoying mid-back tightness.

For innovative non-surgical spine pain treatments in New Jersey, contact Gramercy Pain Center at 732-788-0349 or visit https://www.gramercypaincenter.com/. Our cutting-edge therapies can help diagnose the root cause of ongoing upper back pain and get you on the path to lasting pain freedom.

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