Causes of upper back pain

Medically Reviewed By : Dr Sravya, MBBS, MS 


Are you feeling uneasy due to your achy back? It can cause mild to severe discomfort
depending upon the degree of pain you are suffering from. It affects people from all
age groups and people from various lifestyles. However, women are mostly affected
by back pain.

Back pain

Back pain may have different causes and it is important to learn about the underlying
causes and manage them. The causes of upper back pain may range from something
as basic as poor posture to as severe as spondylitis. It is essential to rule out the
cause to make a proper treatment plan.

Let us discuss in detail various causes of upper back pain:

cause of upper back pain

Causes of Upper Back Pain

Pain caused by trauma, muscle strains, or injury in the area located between the neck region and the base of the ribcage is referred to as upper back pain. One can manage symptoms at home that are mild to moderate. But if the pain is severe, it needs a proper diagnosis and a well-crafted treatment plan.

Your upper and middle back is situated in the area between the neck and bottom of the ribcage. The region of your upper and middle back is called the thoracic spine which consists of 12 small bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae form the backbone. Each of your vertebrae consists of a disk that separates the vertebrae from one another. These disks act as a shock absorber as you move. Your upper back has many muscles and ligaments that hold all the vertebrae together.

Upper back pain does not commonly occur as other pains, because the bones in the upper back play a crucial role in protecting vital organs such as the heart and lungs. Their movement is not like the bones in the neck and lower back.

Few conditions cause upper back pain which includes certain medical conditions and injuries.

As we discussed the causes of upper back pain, let us now delve into the details of upper back pain and the diagnosis.

Upper back pain can be described as;

Diagnosis of upper back pain

Diagnosis of the causes of upper back pain may start with a simple physical exam like lifting or bending of the legs to see the severity of the pain you have. This physical examination lets your doctor know your muscle strength. After assessing your symptoms, if your doctor is unable to diagnose the cause of your upper back pain, he or she may advise you to do some imaging tests. These tests include;

Once the cause of the upper back pain is ruled out by the doctor, an appropriate treatment plan is made. Let us study how to manage and treat the upper back pain caused by any of the above reasons.

Treatment of the upper back pain

Your treatment depends upon the causes, and symptoms (severity of the pain) that you present at the time of assessment.

 Many types of pains that can be managed with some home remedies and lifestyle changes do not need any medicines. One can apply heat bags or ice packs and back massage in some cases. These techniques relieve the pain caused by pain, stiffness, and swelling.

However, some types of pain that are caused due to certain medical conditions need medical intervention. Your doctor may prescribe you the following medications.


An achy back can leave you in discomfort. Unlike lower back pain, upper back is not a common type of back pain. It is caused due to reasons like muscle spasms, strains, or sprains (the most common causes of sudden back pain, bad postures, bulging disks, fractured bones, and osteoarthritis. The upper back is prevalent in women as they have decreased levels of estrogen hormone post-menopause. Additionally, some
pregnancies are expected to have upper back pain. Hence, pregnancy is one of the leading back pain causes in females. Some of the serious causes of upper back pain include pneumonia and lung infections, heart attack, and spinal tuberculosis. All the three causes need a proper diagnosis and immediate medical attention. 

You may be assessed based on the symptoms you present at the doctor’s office. The doctor may first go for the physical examination wherein, he/she may ask you to bend your leg to see the effect of pain on bending. Any of the imaging tests including X-ray, MRI, CT Scan, or EMG may be advised based on the symptoms you have. You may be sometimes advised to do your blood workup to check for the genetic markers that are present due to certain medical conditions that cause upper back pain.

 Once the assessment is done, based on the reports, your doctor may prescribe you medications that include over-the-counter medicines or NSAIDs. In some serious cases, your doctor may advise you to take narcotics under strict medical supervision. Spinal or epidural shots may be administered if the reports and the severity of the symptoms demand so.