upper back pain explained

Upper Back Pain Explained: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

In our previous article, we took an in-depth look at lower back pain (lumbago), the causes, treatments and warning signs.
In this article, we will take a similar approach to upper and mid back pain.

Upper Back Pain Common Symptoms

Just like lower back pain, upper back pain can last for a short time or a longer period.
When this pain last for more than three months, it is then referred to as chronic upper back pain.

The pain may be sharp or piercing, dull or throbbing or it might be local or radiating.
You might only experience it when performing certain activities or after sitting for long.

Upper back pain in patient

Chronic upper back pain can quickly become a debilitating condition

You may experience a pain or weakness in both arms and you might feel stiff in your upper body.
Upper back pain may also be accompanied by other symptoms which will probably indicate an underlying health condition.

These symptoms include the following:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Shoulder pain
  • Neck pain
  • Stiff back
  • Redness and/or swelling of the back
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
woman with upper back pain symtoms

Warning Signs of Upper Back Pain

If you experience upper/mid back pain accompanied by any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible:

upper back pain warning signs
  • Chest pains
  • Jaw pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulties in breathing
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Causes of Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain can be caused by various factors, among them the following:

  • Trauma
  • Sudden injury
  • Strain
  • Poor posture

While the condition can affect anyone, people who spend hours sitting in front of their computers or those who engage in activities that involve stretching their upper bodies at awkward angles are the most affected.

poor sitting posture leading to upper back pain

Poor sitting posture commonly leads to upper back pain

There are also some serious causes of upper back pain and they include the following:

  • Slipped disc, also known as spinal disc herniation
  • Osteoporosis or metabolic bone disease
  • Spinal stenosis, where a narrowing of the spinal canal presses on the spinal cord or nerves
  • Spondylitis, where there is an infection or inflammation of the spinal joints
  • Fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain in the muscles and the soft tissues and is usually accompanied by fatigue

Prevention and Treatment of Upper/Mid Back Pain

It should be noted that unless the underlying cause is detected and treated, pain relief is only temporary. Treatment options include the following:

More long term and sustainable treatments would include things like:

  • stretching tight and over-used muscles
  • strengthening weak and under-used muscles
  • seeing with a physiotherapist
  • joint manipulation with a chiropractor
  • working with a biokenetisist
  • restructuring your work/sitting environment
  • fixing your sleep position
exercises for healthy upper back muscles

Perform back strengthening exercises for healthy muscles to improve poor posture


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