My Favorite Upper Back and Neck Pain Solutions

I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice. This is just what has worked for me. I have a slight curve in my spine and questionable posture habits, which has given me the… uh… opportunity to explore upper back and neck pain solutions for years.

My upper back and neck pain begins as tightness and discomfort in the upper back and culminates in tension headaches that can incapacitate me for days.

I want to share this because I needed something like this several years ago, but it was difficult to sort through all the sales pitches to find real solutions.

As you read this, keep in mind that these are personal solutions. I might have a different kind of back issue than you do, so it might not translate 1:1. But generally speaking, these solutions are for tight, inflamed muscles… a very common back problem!

First, here are some things I would NOT recommend based on my experience.

  1. Chirp: this is a modified narrow foam roller and they advertise on Facebook a lot. It’s very expensive and it hurt my back more somehow.
  2. Acupuncture: this just didn’t work for my upper back and neck pain at all. I found it somewhat relaxing and I slept better, but it didn’t help the problem much. It did not hurt my back, it just wasn’t very effective compared to other things I’ve tried.
  3. Neck stretches: I’ve seen this recommended a lot, but when I’m having a flare up, this sort of thing seems to aggravate the issue. The same goes for neck exercises.

Unsure about: Yoga. I think some of it helps and some of it hurts. I’ve found that during a flare up, it’s probably best to avoid it. But I think that longer-term, yoga could be one of the best solutions to strengthen and lengthen the muscles and release some of the tension.

I’ve tried many things for upper back and neck pain. So here’s what has worked best for me, roughly in order.

1. Chiropractic Care

Some chiropractors claim that cracking your back is the answer for all illnesses. I heartily disagree with that nonsense. I do, however, think that chiropractic care is the single most effective solution for back and neck pain. It has been for me. When nothing else works, going to the chiropractor does! The relief is quite fast, too.

The adjustments are a little scary at first, because they rapidly rotate your head and your neck sounds like a pack of firecrackers. But it feels amazing, and it is done in a safe way. Basically, it’s seems scarier than it actually is.

I go to a place called “The Joint,” because it’s cheaper and faster than most chiropractors. It’s a chain, so there might be one in your area. But if you require bedside manner and personalized care, you might want to go elsewhere. They do their thing and you’re done in a few minutes.

2. Massage

Massage has helped my back so much. I will say, however, that when my back was so tight that the masseuse named a knot “Jeffrey,” no number of massages could help, only chiropractic care could.

Chiropractic care combined with massage (and sensory deprivation tanks if possible) is the golden standard for me. When I’m able to do both of those, I get sorted out fairly quickly.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has made massage (and sensory deprivation tanks) difficult to get. I haven’t had a massage in more than a year. Sadface.

3. Sensory Deprivation Tanks

I’ve written about these before, and they tackle upper back and neck pain from multiple angles. First, this is a very relaxing experience mentally, and can help you remove some stress and anxiety that might be causing muscle tension. Second, you are floating in hundreds of pounds of epsom-salt-saturated water, which delivers magnesium to you muscles (and magnesium relaxes muscles!). Third, you’re floating weightless on the water, which lets your muscles relax and not have to fight gravity for an hour.

The float place I frequented in Orlando seems to have permanently shut down because of the pandemic. And that’s horrible. This place was the only one I’ve seen to combine float AND massage, which is genius.

4. Foam roller

While I have a massage gun that can beat muscles into submission, I think it’s easy to overdo it. The foam roller is a relatively gentle and effective way to help your tight back muscles release. It’s like a light chiropractor adjustment. I always hear my back pop and it feels great!

I have and use the Amazon basics 36″ foam roller. I think the longer ones like this are better because you can do more with them. I also have a smaller one with “spikes” that I don’t use as often.

There are some stretches you can hold on the roller to help reverse poor posture as well, and I’m all about long-term solutions, which is why the last two (temporary) solutions are lower on this list.

5. CBD muscle rub

I have a muscle rub that is basically icy hot combined with CBD oil. I can’t say for sure if it’s the icy hot or CBD that works, but it does give temporary relief. I got it from a massage place. I don’t think Amazon sells CBD products and there may be state restrictions on CBD, so I won’t recommend any specific one.

6. Magnesium oil

This should probably be higher up on the list, but it’s not quite as “immediate” as the other solutions. Magnesium is a natural mineral that plays a vital role in muscle relaxation throughout the body. Studies have also found that migraine sufferers tend to have lower magnesium levels than normal.

Magnesium oil isn’t actually oil. It’s a magnesium chloride brine that you rub into your skin like any muscle rub. You can use it for spot treatment, or to generally raise your magnesium levels. I’ve tested it.

I got a blood test for serum magnesium, then applied magnesium oil to my skin daily for three of the next five months, and got another test. In the second test, my serum magnesium levels were 10% higher. I wrote about it on a guest post here.

One time, I jammed my finger playing basketball. It turned black and blue the following day. After I applied magnesium oil to the finger, the dark color faded significantly within five minutes. It was incredible to see, and I wouldn’t have believed it if it wasn’t my own finger. Magnesium is awesome.

I use the Ancient Minerals brand. I’ve tried other brands, and I can’t say for sure if they are the same, but I used Ancient Minerals for my little experiment and so I know their magnesium oil works!

If you get migraines or have anxiety, I recommend spending 20 bucks to see if this works. Magnesium oil helped me get out of a bad general anxiety (GAD) spiral several years ago. Read my post about magnesium on Dumb Little Man to see why magnesium is so important.

Back pain is the worst, and if you have it, I hope you can get relief. My problem has been upper back pain, but these solutions could work well for lower back pain (except for foam rollers, which have to be used in a different way for the lower back).

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