Video: What Causes Upper Back Pain
The upper back is also known as the thoracic region. It spans from the neck to the lower back. The vertebrae that make up the upper thoracic spine are connected to the ribs and muscles of the back. This thoracic back pain is a source of discomfort for many. While it is not as common as neck or lower back pain, it can still result in severe pain. It can also have a negative impact on an individuals life. This video talks about some of its causes.
What Causes Upper And Middle Back Pain
Upper and middle back pain may be caused by:
- Overuse, muscle strain, or injury to the muscles, ligaments, and discs that support your spine.
- Poor posture.
- Myofascial pain that affects the connective tissue of a muscle or group of muscles.
In rare cases, pain may be caused by other problems, such as gallbladder disease, cancer, or an infection.
Severe Upper Back Pain
Severe upper back pain
Do not ignore severe back pain
Identifying posture-related pain
Handling severe back pain during pregnancy
If the pain in the upper back is because of a bad posture, then it is not such a serious issue. It is not hard to get rid of it because all people have to do is to keep their back straight.
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What Are The Complications Of Neck And Back Pain
Loss or productivity: Back pain is the most common reason for disability in working adults.
Nerve damage: If your back pain is from a herniated disc, pressure on the spinal nerves may cause a variety of problems, such as weakness, numbness, or severe shooting pain that travels from the back to the leg.
Depression: Back or neck pain can disrupt all aspects of a persons life: work, physical exercise, social activities, and sleep. The anxiety and stress caused by the change in mobility and pain can lead to depression.
Weight gain: Loss of mobility and inability to exercise can lead to weight gain and the loss of muscle strength.
It is a good idea to see a health care provider if you have numbness or tingling, or if your pain is severe and does not improve with medication and rest. If you have difficulty urinating, weakness, pain, or numbness in your legs, fever, or unintentional weight loss, you should call your health care provider right away.
Pain That Just Wont Go Away
If your upper back pain is still persistent as heck even if youve tried practically everything, from massages to a spanking new mattress, then it could be a sign of something serious, such as a lung tumor . Were talking about the kind of pain that wakes you up at night. Advanced lung cancer may contribute to bone pain, according to the American Cancer Society. Other signs that go with your upper back pain, such as chest pain, weakness, and unexplained weight loss require your doctors undivided attention.
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When To See A Specialist For Lower Back Pain
If you’re experiencing lower back pain that’s not responding to rest and self-care, it’s time to consider seeing a spine specialist.
“A spine specialist will likely perform a physical exam as well as one or more imaging scans to diagnose the root cause of your lower back pain. Depending on your diagnosis, he or she will then design a treatment plan aimed at alleviating your pain and preventing it from disrupting the everyday activities you enjoy,” says Dr. Palmer.
Pain Intensifies When You Move
You had a recent fall, but you didnt think your back would hurt this much! If you had a traumatic injury, like a heavy object lands on your back or you slip on the ice and fall with your back striking the edge of a step, you can break a vertebral bone or a rib, notes Dr. Tien. The pain can be moderate to severe, but it will get worse when you move. Talk to your doctor, especially after any bad injury.
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How Are Back And Neck Pain Managed
Acute back pain usually gets better without special treatment. Using acetaminophen or ibuprofen will decrease pain and help you rest. Surgery and special exercises are generally not used with acute pain.
For severe, disabling, or chronic back and neck pain, rehabilitation programs can be designed to meet your needs. The type of program will depend on the type and severity of your pain, injury, or disease. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of rehabilitation programs.
The goal of back and neck rehabilitation is to help you manage disabling pain, return to your highest level of functioning and independence possible, while improving your overall quality of life. The focus of rehabilitation is on relieving pain and improving mobility .
To help reach these goals, back and neck rehabilitation programs may include the following:
Exercise programs to improve range of motion, increase muscle strength, improve flexibility and mobility, and increase endurance
Help with obtaining assistive devices that promote independence
Patient and family education and counseling
Pain management techniques
Gait and movement retraining
Ergonomic assessments and work-related injury prevention programs
The Pain Is Searing Through Your Chest Too
Numbness or weakness in your arms can be one sign of a strokeor it may also be an indication of a tear in the wall of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in your body that runs in the back of your chest, says Dr. Tien. She adds that youre especially at risk if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure over a long period of time. This can cause a tearing mid-chest and/or back pain, she describes. Just like a stroke, this is an emergency that requires immediate medical care.
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Abdominal Discomfort Mimicking Back Pain
There are a number of disorders involving the abdominal organs that can produce back pain symptoms, and some of these disorders are quite serious. Although rare, they cannot be overlooked.
The most serious vascular disorder presenting as back pain is the abdominal aortic aneurysm. Patients are often difficult to diagnose early on, as initial symptoms may be subtle and non-specific. As the process gets worse, the pain becomes deep-seated and localized to the thoracic or thoracolumbar segments of the spine. If your doctors have already said you have an aneurysm, then intense pain, undiminished by narcotics, should trigger you to go immediately to the emergency room.
Back pain can be triggered by disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. Ulcers, especially those involving the posterior duodenal wall, may cause upper lumbar back pain. A “perforated” ulcer may trigger intense pain and spasm, as well as signs of generalized illness and an acute abdomen.
Any type of kidney disease may cause back pain referred to the upper lumbar junction and flank. Kidney stones are a notorious cause of severe, incapacitating back pain. This kind of pain typically comes in waves, causing intense back spasms and pain for a few minutes, then easing off for a bit before coming back with a vengeance. Pain like this is referred to as colic, and is typical for kidney stones, gall stones and kidney infections.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Upper Back Pain That Shoots Down The Arm
- Turn your head toward the side of your body that is hurting. Lift your head up as someone else pushes down on your head. Does this cause greater pain in your upper body?
- What is your body mass?
- Do you feel a painful, tight knot or band in your muscle anywhere on the body?
- What makes your back pain worse?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
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Weakness In Your Legs
If you feel upper back pain along with weakness or numbness in your arms and legs, your doctor may check for a possible slipped disc, also known as a herniated disc. Its a neurologic injury that happens when you lift something too heavy for you using your back instead of your legs. In some cases, it could be just arthritis. Disc herniation in your lower back can also irritate the nearby sciatic nerve, resulting in painful symptoms and weakness that gradually radiates in one of your legs.
You Were In A Car Accident
If youre able to walk away from a rear end crash and feel OK, you may decide not to get checked out by a doctor. However, whiplasha violent backward-and-forward jerk of the headcan create tears and inflammation of the muscles and ligaments in the neck and upper back, explains Dr. Chang. See your doctor if you suspect whiplash, especially if you have other symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and pain in your neck.
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When Back Pain Suggests Something Worse
Back pain, whether it’s low back pain, neck pain or pain up between the shoulder blades, affects so many of us that that almost everyone has had an ache or pain that has made them worry. Since the common causes of back and neck pain are typically age-related wear-and-tear changes or minor injuries, 90% of people improve with simple supportive care – rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. However, when pain persists, or presents in an unusual way, you may begin to worry that the pain is coming from something more serious.
While serious, unrecognized diseases are very uncommon causes of back pain, there are some disorders that can seriously impact your health if they aren’t recognized early enough. These kinds of disorders almost always offer a few clear clues to their diagnosis, however. A careful history and physical examination, looking for specific signs and symptoms, and properly selected diagnostic studies, will allow your physicians to confidently rule out important underlying diseases.
There are a few warning signs you should recognize and bring to your doctor’s attention:
How Is Upper Back Pain Diagnosed
Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your medical history, activity level and symptoms. They will also ask you questions about your pain. These questions may include:
- When did the pain start?
- Where does the pain hurt the most?
- Does anything you do make the pain feel better?
- Does anything you do make the pain feel worse?
Your healthcare provider may do a physical exam. They may have you lift or bend your legs to see how moving affects your pain. Your healthcare provider may test your muscle strength and reflexes.
Depending on what your healthcare provider finds, they may order additional tests. These tests may include:
- Spine X-ray: Uses radiation to produce images of the bones in your spine.
- Magnetic resonance imaging scan: Uses a magnet and radio waves to create pictures of your bones, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues in your spine.
- Computed tomography scan: Uses X-rays and a computer to create 3D images of the bones and soft tissues in the spine.
- Electromyography : Tests the nerves and muscles in your spine and checks for nerve damage , which can cause tingling or numbness in your legs.
- Blood test: Can detect genetic markers for some conditions that cause back pain.
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Treatment If Back Pain Gets Worse
If your back pain doesn’t get better or it gets worse, your doctor may recommend:
- Prescription medicines, such as opioids, to help reduce pain.
- Prescription muscle relaxants to help reduce pain and muscle tension and improve mobility. These can help with severe muscle spasms that happen when the back pain starts .
- Antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and duloxetine, to help treat long-lasting back pain.
- Steroid shots to help reduce swelling and relieve pressure on nerves and nerve roots. But there is little evidence showing that these shots can help control back pain.
In some cases, a back brace may be used to support the bones in the spine after a fracture.
Surgery is seldom used to treat upper and middle back pain. If your doctor recommends surgery, the type will depend on the problem you have. Surgery choices may include:
- Herniated disc removal. It removes the portion of the disc that is herniated and pushing into the spinal canal. In most cases, herniated discs that occur in the upper and middle back are small and don’t need surgery. But you may need surgery for a large herniated disc that presses on the spinal cord.
- Spinal decompression for stenosis. It widens the spinal canal that has narrowed, and it relieves pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. This procedure is not done very often, because spinal stenosis in the upper and middle back is rare.
How Back Pain And Nausea Are Treated
For mild to moderate cases and you dont have serious underlying conditions, muscle strain, back pain and nausea can be remedied by anti-nausea medications such as dolasetron and granisetron . If youre pregnant, get your doctors approval before taking these. For back pain, there are over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. These can make nausea worse though so again, check with your doctor if thats the case.
When youre nauseous, you may have a hard time keeping solid food down your stomach. To keep you hydrated at least, take small sips of water or clear liquid, such as Gatorade or any other drinks that contain electrolytes. Good old ginger ale can work wonderfully as well. Then ease your stomach with small servings of bland food, such as gelatin, clear broth, and crackers.
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Castle Connolly Top Doctors
Back pain is a common condition and can range from dull and aching to sharp and stabbing. According to experts, around 80% of people will experience some sort of back pain at some point in their lives. On the other hand, nausea is the feeling of wanting to vomit. The two conditions are not mutually exclusive and each can happen on its own. However, there are lots of instances of back pain and nausea that can occur at the same time.
Since these conditions are very common and not necessarily alarming even if they occur at the same time, when should upper back pain and nausea be a cause for concern? You need to distinguish if you are experiencing pain related to intestinal or digestive issues, in which the pain can radiate to your back, or other factors such as pregnancy, which is also another example since a woman experiences morning sickness and back pain as common symptoms.
When Should I Call My Healthcare Provider If I Have Upper Back Pain
Upper back pain usually gets better on its own. Call your healthcare provider if:
- Your upper back pain doesnt improve after a week.
- You develop any tingling or numbness in your legs or buttocks.
- You have severe pain or muscle spasms.
- You develop new symptoms such as fever, weight loss or bowel or bladder problems.
These may be a sign of a more serious condition.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Upper back pain may not be as common as lower back pain, but it can still greatly affect your quality of life. While you cant always avoid upper back pain, there are ways to help prevent it. Make sure to stand up straight, get plenty of exercise and try to reduce your stress. If your pain doesnt improve, call your healthcare provider. They can help you figure out whats causing you pain and get you back on track.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/26/2022.
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What You Can Do
Often you can stay home: There are many effective home remedies for upper back pain relief. A typical episode of muscle strain usually lasts only a few days, explains Dr. Chang. Staying comfortable during this time is key. He suggests resting, icing, and taking anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen.
Risk Factors For Developing Upper Back Pain
There tends to be an increased risk for back pain as a person ages, but that correlation does not hold up as well in the upper back compared to the neck and lower back. Some research indicates that adolescentsparticularly older adolescentsare at higher risk for upper back pain compared to other age groups.1
Other risk factors for developing upper back pain include having weakened core and back muscles, female gender, other musculoskeletal pain, and poorer mental health.2
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When Should You Worry About Upper Back Pain
If you spend any extended time hunched over a computer or phone, chances are youve experienced some form of upper back pain.
While this part of the back is less susceptible to injury than the lower or middle back, upper back pain still affects nearly one in 10 men and one in five women.
And with a range of symptoms, pain levels, and causes, its not always clear when to see a doctor.
Most cases of upper back pain can be managed at home with over-the-counter pain medication, heat or ice, exercise, and improvement of posture.
However, certain symptoms in conjunction with upper back pain may indicate a serious medical issue that requires immediate attention from a healthcare professional.
In this article, Ill detail the symptoms and potential causes of upper back pain.
Then Ill break down the potential signs that upper back pain could be something serious and when to see a doctor.