Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain is any type of pain that stretches from the middle of your back, up through and across your shoulders. While it is not a very common spinal pain, it can still cause quite a bit of pain and discomfort.

Technically, the upper back is classified as the thoracic spine, which unlike the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back), does not allow for any movement. Because of this, discs and vertebrae in that region are not generally susceptible to the normal wear and tear that affects other areas of the spine. This means that upper back pain is usually caused by something other than a degenerative spine condition.


Causes of Upper back Pain

The stiffness, muscle spasms, headaches, and other general pain symptoms that come with upper back pain can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of the most common causes can include:

  • Poor posture or looking downward for long periods of time (cell phone or tablet use)

  • Recent or semi-recent (symptoms can sometimes be delayed) accident trauma

  • Improper lifting

  • Sports or overuse injuries

  • Neck or shoulder strain

More rare or uncommon causes of upper back pain may include:


Certain lifestyle habits can contribute to upper back pain as well. These can include:

  • Poor ergonomic set-ups at work

  • Obesity

  • Smoking

  • Lack of exercise

  • Carrying bags that are too heavy

  • Weak abdominal muscles

Each case is different. For some, upper back pain can be contributed to something as simple as an old mattress, the wrong type of shoes or carrying a lighter purse.

Treatments for Upper back Pain

There are many treatments for upper back pain. However, what works for someone else may not work for you. The severity of your symptoms and how much they prevent you from your daily activities will influence the type of treatment that brings you relief. Keep trying different methods or work with your back specialist until you find what is best for you.  

In most cases, upper back pain can be treated with at-home treatments or lifestyle modifications. Some of these may include:

  • Daily exercise (stretches)

  • Rest

  • Practicing proper posture (You may also be interested in reading: Four Ways to Keep Your Spine Healthy)

  • Losing weight

  • Eating anti-inflammatory foods

  • Over-the-counter pain medicines

  • Heat or ice

  • Massage

For more severe cases, a back pain specialist may recommend prescription medication, which may include a muscle relaxant or steroid shot.

When to See a Spine Doctor

Although uncomfortable and inconvenient, upper back pain is typically not a cause for worry. Most cases of upper back pain resolve in a few weeks without further treatment. Unless you have signs of a severe illness, injury, or heart attack, allow your back pain to work itself out before you contact your doctor; however, if you don’t feel better in 1 to 2 weeks, call your doctor. If you are in the Houston area and believe you need to see a spine doctor call our office at 281-880-0700 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fayaz. 

Other circumstances that may require a call to your doctor include numbness or weakness in the legs, difficulty walking, or any type of back pain with fever. If back pain occurs with chest pains or other symptoms of a heart attack, such as sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or pressure in the chest, contact emergency services immediately.