Upper back pain

What is upper back pain?

Upper back pain is less common than low back pain or neck pain, and it’s caused when the discs between the vertebrae begin to deteriorate or are deformed.

What causes upper back pain?

  • Overuse, muscle strain, or injury to the muscles, ligaments, and discs that support your spine
  • Poor posture
  • Pressure on the spinal nerves from certain problems, such as a herniated disc
  • A fracture of one of the vertebrae
  • Osteoarthritis caused by the breakdown of cartilage that cushions the small facet joints in the spine
  • 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


Common symptoms of upper and middle back pain are:

  • A dull, burning, or sharp pain
  • Muscle tightness or stiffness
  • More serious symptoms that need to be treated right away include weakness in your arms or legs, numbness or tingling in your arms, legs, chest, or belly, loss of bowel or bladder control.

Typical diagnosis

Your pain physician should be able to determine the cause of pain with appropriate diagnostics, which may include a comprehensive physical exam, MRI, CT scan, or X-ray.


  • Physical Therapy: In order to decrease or prevent functional limitations, physical therapy and occupational therapy are recommended as well as medical treatments. Physical therapy for upper back pain aims to increase range of motion and muscular strength.
  • Medial branch blocks (MBBs): Medial branch blocks are a minimally-invasive, non-surgical treatment used for arthritis-related neck and back pain.
  • Epidural steroid injections: Epidural injections are often used for degenerative disc disease and other pain syndromes.
  • Facet injections: These minimally-invasive injections can temporarily relieve neck or back pain caused by inflamed facet joints.
  • Selective nerve blocks: These are used to help your practitioner identify which nerves are causing your pain.
  • Discography: Discography involves the use of contrast dyes to obtain a detailed image of intervertebral discs.


Back pain treatments range from conservative management to surgery, depending on the cause and severity of the pain. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and improve functioning.


Administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, or ibuprofen-like drugs), acetaminophen (Tylenol), muscle relaxants, and membrane stabilizing medications is often effective in treating upper back pain.

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