Causes of Upper Back Pain

The top causes of upper back pain, including upper left and right back pain, can be treated conservatively. Some symptoms can be signs of more serious problems.

Unlike the causes of lower back pain, the causes of mid back and upper back pain are less numerous and tend to be more severe.

The upper back is not designed to support frequent or harsh movement but rather to support and stabilize the body, allowing for proper posture while also working along side the rib cage to protect our most vital organs.

If you are experiencing mild to severe upper back pain, knowing the mechanics and causes can be a big help in alleviating your symptoms and getting proper treatment.

While lower back pain symptoms are very common and considered the number one reason for long term absence from work, upper back pain is far less common and is sometimes a side symptom of a more serious condition. The length and severity of upper back pain is unique to each person’s situation. Chronic, severe pain may be a sign of a more serious issue. Moderate, short term or on again off again type of pain may come from a certain type of activity or an unusual strain.

If you have both back and chest pain that will many times be associated with a nerve being impinged. Many people will get scared thinking that they are having a heart attack. This was very common when doctors would open up the rib cage to perform open heart surgery. Separating the ribs would pinch nerves in the middle back that affect the area by the heart. It can also cause pain in the upper left back area. This is not as common as more heart surgeries are performed without the need to separate the rib cage.


Common Causes of Upper Back Pain


In some cases upper back pain can be caused by a serious condition, however the majority of patients who have pain in this area will discover that they are either experiencing muscle and myofascial pain or upper back pain as a result of localized joint dysfunction.

Myofascial and upper back muscle pain will many times be experienced on both sides of the back. If you have just upper right back pain or upper left back pain these are symptoms that are unique to a few conditions.

Upper Back Muscle Pain


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Muscle and myofascial pain is defined as any sort of pain and discomfort that is caused by muscle irritation. The large muscles that are found in the upper back can easily become irritated and will radiate pain through the entire upper back area from a few extra sensitive areas called ‘trigger points’ that are located throughout the muscles.

This picture highlights the 6 major trigger points in the middle and upper back.

One of the most common causes of upper back pain, myofascial muscle irritation is caused by a number of factors and activities that include:

  • Poor posture
  • Repetitive activity
  • Long periods of working at a computer
  • Sports accidents or other injury to the area
  • Pressure on spinal nerves

Much of our work has forced us into a more sedentary lifestyle which has led to underused and weak muscles. These specific causes are the result of us not staying in better shape.

  • Muscle weakness in the area
  • Overuse of muscles
  • Inactivity of muscles for lengthy periods of time
  • Strain on muscles, tendons and spinal disks

A specific trigger, like the ones listed above usually cause middle back pain. They are also common causes of lower back pain. It is imperative that you discuss your pain with your doctor to first identify what sort of medical condition or daily activity is causing your myofascial pain so that you can treat the issue or discontinue that particular activity.

While myofascial pain is known to cause mild to extreme discomfort for the patient, medical treatments are available that can help alleviate the symptoms and help return your body to a pain free state once the triggers have been identified. Common treatments for myofascial pain include:

  • Physical therapies and special exercises
  • Acupuncture
  • Osteopathic care
  • Massage therapies
  • Specialized medications
  • Manipulations by a chiropractic back pain specialist
causes of upper back pain, back and chest pain, upper back muscle pain, upper right back pain

Joint Dysfunction


The vertebrae in our back are connected to our rib cage via two large joints that are located on either side of the spine. The most common causes of upper back pain are injuries and dysfunctions in these joints. Similar to myofascial pain, joint dysfunction in the upper back is caused by lack of exercise, poor posture or injury.

Treatment for upper back pain caused by joint dysfunction include:

  • Regular chiropractic manipulations and care
  • Regular physical therapy and exercise
  • The use of anti-inflammatory medication

Uncommon Causes of Upper Back Pain


While myofascial pain and joint dysfunction are the most common causes of pain in the upper back, a number of more severe diseases, conditions and issues can also be the culprit. Some of the less common culprits are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Spine fractures
  • Myeloma
  • Spine tumors
  • Kidney stones
  • Muscle spasms

There are also a number causes that are associated with nerve involvement since these conditions involve the discs and facets of the spine.

causes of upper back pain, back and chest pain, upper back muscle pain, upper right back pain

The causes of upper back pain create uncomfortable symptoms but in most cases are easily treated and cured. It is important that you are familiar with the causes of upper back pain, so that you can identify back pain risks in your lifestyle and do your best to alter them before they take effect on you.

Patients suffering from conditions such as degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis and herniated discs have had to resort to back surgery in advanced and severe cases. Even though the success rate has been extremely low this was their only alternative. Since 2001 non-surgical spinal decompression has provided an alternative with a much higher success rate.

It is also wise to contact your doctor if you experience regular, chronic upper back pain or if you suddenly develop pain in this area so that they can rule out the possibility of a more serious medical condition.

Educational Videos


These 3D animations with voice-over are to help you better understand your condition and the possible course of action to treat it.

The simple to use interface will allow you to see and hear the explainations of many conditions, inculding their treatments. The Amazing Spine area will explain the human spine and each vertebrea's affect on the internal organs and nerves.

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