Upper Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Most people suffer from back pain at one point or other in their lives. It is very common and it usually goes away on its own within a couple of days. However, in some cases, this can cause serious pain and affect the everyday activities. At this point, you need to visit a doctor and get suitable treatment. The upper back pain affects the region where the shoulder blades meet the rib cage and the chest region. You may experience stiffness in the region in the initial stages and it can also cause muscle spasms when the pain is too much at later stages. In the long run, it can lead to weakness and numbness in the region and even affect your posture. You can, however, take preventive measures to avoid this condition in the long run. It does not even require medication or other treatment in most cases and physical therapy will be more than enough to handle the situation. However, in rare cases, surgery may be required to treat the problem in the long run.

Symptoms of Upper Back Pain

  • The most obvious symptom of this condition will be a pain in the back muscles and this can sometimes extend to the shoulder and neck region.
  • The pain can be throughout the upper back region or it can be concentrated at a single point in which the symptoms are similar to shooting pain.
  • In other cases, the pain can stretch towards the chest region and this usually happens when the pain is due to a muscle spasm in the upper back region. This can affect your normal movement and make it difficult for you to bend or twist sideways.
  • In mild cases, you may experience stiffness in the upper back region and this makes it difficult for you to stretch your body in any direction. You should never neglect the problem at this stage as it can quickly aggravate and lead to severe pain in the upper back region.
  • The pain can sometimes even extend to the lower back region when it is due to spasms.
  • If the pain is too severe, it can even cause symptoms of fever in many cases.

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Causes of Upper Back Pain

  • There are many causes for this condition and it can usually result from a strain in the upper back muscles. It is common for the muscles to get irritated when they are overstretched and this can cause muscle damage in that region. It can also affect the normal flow of blood in the region due to swelling and another injury to the area. The most common cause of this problem is a heavy exercise without proper warm-up or trauma due to an accident.
  • In some cases, the spinal discs can get injured due to various problems and this can cause significant pain in the upper back region. When the discs slightly move out of their place and press the tissues that are in the surrounding area, it can cause a lot of pain.
  • As the upper back muscles are connected to the shoulder and neck muscles, any injury to the neck region can also cause significant back pain. The fractured vertebrae is a common cause for this condition in many cases and it can even affect the normal movement of the muscles in this region.
  • You should be careful about meningitis which is a bacterial infection as it can cause a lot of pain in the upper back region. Apart from that, you are also likely to suffer from this condition when you are not having proper nutrition. In the same manner, even hormonal changes in the body can affect the bones in the spinal column and this can also cause back pain in some people.
  • It is common to experience back pain due to old age and the muscles that are supporting the spinal column tends to get weak with age. You can, however, avoid this condition by losing excess weight and having a proper workout regime to strengthen the back muscles.

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Diagnosis of Upper Back Pain

  • The first step in diagnosis begins with a physical examination of the affected area. You may be asked to stretch your body in different directions to notice which one is causing maximum pain and doctors will determine the severity of the condition in this manner.
  • In general cases, this will be more than enough to diagnose the condition and doctors will prescribe suitable medication at this stage to provide relief from pain. However, when the condition is recurrent and lasting for a longer duration, you may be advised to go for further tests to determine the cause of the condition.
  • The simple X-ray of the affected region will give some insight into the problems in that area. In some cases, the problem can be due to broken bones or weak bones in that region. This will be helpful to notice such problems and further treatment can be started to cure the condition.
  • Imaging tests are a good way to get detailed insight into the back problems. This can give further insights into the muscles and nerves of the spinal column and any problem in this region can be easily identified by the doctors. In some cases, the problem can also be due to blood clots in the upper back region and imaging tests will give a clear picture about such conditions.
  • Getting a blood test done will help the doctors to rule out the chances of any infection in the body that can be causing this pain in the upper back region. In this regard, when the problem is due to such infections, painkillers will be given to control the upper back pain and then further treatment will be given to reduce the infection in the body.
  • In rare cases, detailed analysis of the nerves and bones may be required when all the above-mentioned tests are not providing proper results. In such cases, the suspected cause may be a tumour in the spinal region or some serious issues with the nerves in this region.

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Prevention of Upper Back Pain

  • There are many things you can do to prevent upper back pain in the long run. The first thing you need to focus is on your weight. If you are obese, you are more prone to getting joint problems and this can easily lead to back problems in the future.
  • For this reason, it makes sense to lose excess weight and this will put less pressure on the spinal column. In this manner, the muscles in the back region will be able to support the spine and this can easily reduce symptoms of this condition.
  • You should also understand that exercising regularly in some way or other is important to maintain muscle strength in the long run. Every person should exercise for a minimum of thirty minutes per day as this will ensure that the muscles will be properly toned and there will be fewer chances of getting affected with back pain in the future.
  • When you want to begin your exercise regime, make sure that you consult a trained professional and discuss any existing health issues with them. This will help them to chart the best plan suited for your physical strength and you will not be straining your muscles beyond your capacity. This is crucial to prevent injuries during the workout and it can easily avoid back pain in the long run.
  • Improving your core strength is a good way to avoid an upper back problem later in life. You can easily do this by planking for a few minutes on a daily basis. Remember that there are many varieties of planking exercises and you can choose the best one suited to your strength and continue with the practice for a few months. This will give good strength to the back muscles and the symptoms of back pain will reduce by a huge margin.
  • You should also make it a point to have good back support when you are sitting for long hours at work. This is important to avoid damage to the spinal column in the long run and it will clearly avoid back problems in the future.
  • Whenever you want to get involved in sports activities or hard workout sessions, make it a point to use some sort of back support to avoid injuries. This will prevent many problems associated with back pain and you will be able to lift weights and do a workout in an effective manner.

Treatment for Upper Back Pain

  • In most cases, treating upper back pain is easy when you use painkillers. This is also available over the counter and using them for a couple of days will give good relief. However, when this is not providing relief and it starts to affect your active lifestyle, you need to consult a doctor for a detailed treatment.
  • In the early stages, medication to control the pain is given in the right dosage. This will help to reduce the inflammation in that region and it can significantly reduce pain in the upper back region. However, it can come with some serious side effects in the long run and it is only used in the early stages for a couple of days.
  • The next option is to use muscle relaxants that will help to reduce the pain in the upper back region. This can be given in the form of pills or taken as an injection at the affected area. The most common side effect of this medication is the feeling of drowsiness and you should avoid them during the daytime.
  • Apart from that, you can also use some creams or lotions that can provide pain relief in the affected area. You can gently massage the affected area with such medicines and this can improve blood circulation in the affected area.
  • Certain antidepressants may also provide good relief from pain when you are suffering from chronic upper back pain. However, this cannot be used in the long run as it can become a habit and your body will not respond properly to such medication in the future.
  • Along with all these methods, using physical therapy will give suitable strength to the back muscles and also reduce the symptoms by a huge margin. You can approach a trained therapist for this treatment and get suitable treatment. This is a good option for people who are not able to exercise on their own due to the age factor or other health conditions.
  • In extreme cases, surgery may be required to treat the condition. This is usually needed when the problem is with the spinal column and fixing them will provide long-term relief from such pain.

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Complications of Upper Back Pain

There are not many serious complications of this condition and you can easily get quick relief within a couple of days in most cases. However, when it persists for many weeks or months, it can become chronic and affect your everyday activities. This will mean that you will not be able to lead an active lifestyle and it will drastically affect the overall strength of the body due to limited mobility. You will not be able to use your shoulders and hands for physical activities in the normal manner due to upper back pain. When the pain is neglected for a long duration, it can cause severe complications with the spinal column in rare cases.


There is no need to worry about this condition as it goes away on its own in most cases. However, when it is not going away for many days and the pain is very severe, you need to consult your doctor to get relief from such symptoms. Using medication will be the first choice to reduce the pain and this can also reduce the inflammation in the affected region. Apart from that, taking suitable rest and using hot compressions on the affected region will improve blood circulation and provide pain relief in a natural way. When everything else fails, you can get some injections to reduce the pain in the upper back region. In rare cases when the problem is due to bone fracture or other condition with the spinal column, surgery will give long-term relief from the problem.

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Last updated on : 20-12-2018

Disclaimer : Docprime doesn’t endorse or take any guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of information provided under this article and these are the views strictly of the writer. Docprime shall not be held responsible for any aspect of healthcare services administered with the information provided on this article.

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