If you’ve ever experienced an upper back muscle pull, you know how painful and debilitating it can be. Unlike a typical muscle strain, a pulled back muscle limits movement and functionality of the entire back and core. Even small tasks like sitting up straight or turning your head can be a struggle.
Understanding how a pulled upper back muscle progresses through healing stages empowers you to care for your injury properly and get back to full motion safely. Learning average recovery timelines sets helpful expectations so you don’t return too soon or feel discouraged by slow progress.
What Happens When You Pull an Upper Back Muscle? When you engage in twisting, reaching, or hyperextension motions that strain muscles beyond capacity, small tears can occur within the muscle tissue. This causes localized pain, inflammation, and even muscle spasms.
Common culprit activities leading to pulled upper back muscles include:
- Sports involving aggressive serves like tennis, volleyball, or baseball
- Golf swings and other repetitive rotational movements
- Heavy or improper lifting
- Reaching awkwardly
- Falling backwards
- Forceful hyperextension like during a car accident
The upper trapezius muscle group along the neck, shoulders, and upper back are particularly vulnerable. But strains can occur in surrounding musculature as well, including the rhomboids, levator scapulae, infraspinatus, teres muscles, and erector spinae.
Acute Phase – Seeking Relief From Discomfort Immediately after the pull occurs, pain receptors fire while muscle fibers and connective tissue sustain damage on a microscopic level. During the acute phase, symptoms may include:
- Localized sharp or radiating pain that increases with attempted movements
- Muscle spasms and cramping
- Tenderness and swelling around the affected area
- Reduced strength and mobility due to pain
- Difficulty turning head or lying flat
Treatment focuses on managing pain and further injury protection:
- Rest – avoid movements that aggravate injury
- Ice – reduce swelling for 15-20 mins every few hours
- Compress – wrap with elastic bandage to provide support
- Elevate – raise arms to aid blood flow and drainage
- Over-the-counter meds – to relieve discomfort
It’s crucial not to overdo activity during the delicate acute healing phase which can last approximately 1-2 weeks.
Repair Phase – Rebuilding Torn Muscle Fibers The repair phase begins a few days post-injury and centers around rebuilding damaged soft tissue. The body works to regenerate muscle fibers and reestablish strength. Light activity can assist the recovery process by promoting blood flow.
Around 2 weeks post-injury, gentle rehabilitation exercises may begin focusing on:
- Passive range of motion – move the arm through basic motions without engaging muscles
- Stretches – mild, careful stretches help lengthen tight spots
- Heat therapy – increases blood flow to deliver nutrients critical for repair
- Massage – eases residual tightness and scar tissue
The goal is to slowly rebuild mobility and flexibility first before adding strength training stress. Rushing rehabilitation risks re-straining the area so progress thoughtfully week-by-week based on symptoms.
Remodeling Phase – Restoring Functional Strength Finally, the remodeling phase from approximately 4-10 weeks out involves safely rebuilding muscular strength, power, and endurance for a full return. During this phase:
- Stretching, massage, and mobility work continues
- Strengthening progresses from bodyweight to bands, weights, machines
- Motion increases toward pre-injury capabilities
- Light aerobic activity can be added like walking or swimming
- Complete tissue remodeling takes around 2-3 months
Setbacks during rehabilitation may involve swelling, fatigue, mild strains, or compensatory pain indicating it’s important to pull back and slow progress. Work closely with a physical therapist during the remodeling process for appropriate recovery timelines.
In conclusion, a pulled upper back muscle is a severe injury requiring weeks of thoughtful care and strategic rehabilitation under guidance from a medical professional. While recovery plateaus are common, taking progression slowly allows for full restoration of strength and function over a period of approximately 6-12 weeks. Pay attention to your body, ease back into regular activity, and before long you’ll get back on track.