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Upper Back Pain

Jun 09, 2020 | Texas Partners Healthcare Group

Upper Back Pain Can Be Just as Debilitating as Low Back Pain

Pain impacts you in various ways and appears in many forms. Virtually every part of your body is susceptible to some type of pain. From back pain to migraines and arthritis, pain looks different for everyone. However, back pain is very common. After all, it is the leading cause of disability worldwide. When talking about back pain, people tend to focus on low back pain, as roughly 31 million Americans suffer from it. However, people don’t talk about upper back pain near as often, but many Americans still live with this pain.

Upper back pain is similar to back pain as poor posture, muscle overuse, and injury all can lead to this pain. Occupational Medicine published a study that stated that roughly 1 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women suffer from upper back pain. While it is not as prevalent as low back pain, it still impacts many people.

The upper back may be less prone to injury than the lower back, but upper back pain still occurs. Just like low back pain, it can be quite debilitating. The pain management doctors at Texas Partners Healthcare Group take all cases of pain seriously, no matter what the condition is. At our pain management clinic, we will thoroughly assess your pain and create personalized treatment plans specifically for you. If you suffer from upper back pain or pain of any kind, contact Texas Partners Healthcare Group today.

What is Upper Back Pain? 

Upper back pain is pain that you experience in your upper back. But what is your upper back? This is the area between the base of your neck and the bottom of your ribcage. It is comprised of 12 bones, which healthcare professionals call the thoracic spine. It begins at the base of your neck, ending with the 12th bone that is just below your ribcage. Upper back pain is felt anywhere in this area. This pain is often caused by problems with the spine, including:

  • Vertebrae
  • Spinal discs
  • Muscles, ligaments, and tendons
  • Nerves

Your upper back is less prone to pain than your lower back because it does not have to carry as much of a load of your body weight as your lower back. Several factors can increase your chances of experiencing upper back pain, such as your age, weight, the physical shape you are in, underlying health conditions, and more.

Some symptoms include:

  • Aches
  • Stiffness
  • Sharp pain
  • Burning sensation
  • Muscle tightness
  • Pain in or under the shoulder blade
  • Pain when breathing

More severe symptoms include:

  • Weakness in your arms or legs
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the arms, legs, or torso
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

If you experience any of these severe symptoms, contact a pain management clinic as soon as possible.


Several different causes can lead to upper back pain. Each cause is unique in its own way, so it’s crucial that you understand some of the differences between them.

Muscle Overuse

Overusing your back muscles is a common upper back pain cause. Repeating the same motion over and over often leads to overuse. This causes muscle tightness, muscle strain, or irritation. Rest is the best treatment for muscle overuse, followed by using a heat or ice pack to promote blood circulation in the muscle tissues. Avoiding this repeated behavior or taking more breaks may also help.

The opposite is also true. Not using your muscles enough deconditions them, which leads to poor posture and then chronic pain.

Traumatic Injury

Traumatic injuries also lead to this pain. Car accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, workplace accidents, improper lifts, or workout accidents can lead to traumatic injuries. Typically, this pain is felt immediately after the accident. However, it can take time to make itself felt. Traumatic injuries can be severe, as well, resulting in long-term complications, such as chronic pain or paralysis. A healthcare professional should always assess your injuries following a traumatic injury to ensure there are no long-term complications.

Herniated Discs

While more common in the lower back, herniated discs can still occur in your upper back. This occurs when part of the disc, the rubbery cushion between vertebrae, pushes out, putting pressure on the spine. Even the slightest pressure can cause significant pain. When a herniated disc slips far enough, it can put pressure on a nerve, causing a pinched nerve.


While muscle strains are often the source of back pain, bones and joints can also cause it. Osteoarthritis affects the joints and occurs when the cartilage between bones begins to wear down over time. The cartilage may eventually wear away, causing the bones to rub together and put pressure on nearby nerves.

Myofascial Pain

Myofascial pain occurs when the connective tissues, referred to as fascia, begin to experience pain. Repetitive motion causes the muscles in the back to contract over and over. It leads to deep muscle pain. It can develop into a chronic condition, identified by worsening pain and tender muscles.

Spinal Infections

While rare, an infection in your spine may lead to upper back pain. These infections can be the result of bacteria, viruses, or fungi. These infections can impact the discs, bones, and spinal cord. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to avoid long-term, potentially life-threatening complications.

Other conditions that can cause upper back pain include:

  • Lung Cancer
  • Scoliosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Stress


Fortunately, there are plenty of upper back pain treatments available to them. Many of the conditions and causes that lead to this pain have simple treatments.

  • Exercise: strengthens the back muscles, improves posture, and relieve stress and stiffness
  • Rest: allows your body to recover and prevents overuse
  • Heat/Ice Packs: using a heat or ice pack on the affected area improves blood circulation to the muscle tissue, calming spasms and relieving muscle tightness
  • Massage: breaks up muscle knots around the neck and shoulder blades, relieving tension and tightness
  • Physical Therapy: helps your back heal while ensuring your muscles stay strong and healthy
  • Medication: over-the-counter pain medications can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain symptoms
  • Injections: an injection will target the problematic joint, which reduces swelling and inflammation

At Texas Partners Healthcare Group, our team of pain management doctors works collaboratively to thoroughly assess your pain and create a personalized treatment plan for you. While upper back pain is not as prevalent as low back pain, it does still occur, and our team has the experience and skills necessary to treat it. If you suffer from upper back pain or some other type of pain, contact Texas Partners Healthcare Group today.