Upper back pain – Causes, Treatments and Medications

Upper back pain is a rare kind of spinal disorder but patients should not take this disease lightly as they can cause great pain and discomfort when it happens to the body. The common causes of upper back pain are joint dysfunction and muscular irritation or also known as myofascial pain. It can be that there is an injured disc at the upper back like a degenerated disc or thoracic herniated disc which also causes upper back pain although this case is rarely happening to people.

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People should note that thoracic spine, also known for other names as middle back and upper back is totally different in its function and form compared to the neck or cervical spine, and the lower back or lumbar spine. The design of the lower back and neck are for providing mobility while the thoracic spine provides stability and strength in allowing the body to stand up straight.  It also protects the vital organs within the chest. This part of the spinal column has great stability and only allows little movement.  Generally, the risk of degeneration or injury over time is low in the upper back.

Symptoms of Upper back Pain

There are a number of cases of upper back pain which is caused by soft tissue or muscle problems like tension, strain or sprain. Majority of the symptoms that are reported in these cases are linked to muscles such as:

* Injured area feels tender when touched

* Tightness

* Pain

* Spasm

* Stiffness

There are times as well that a patient can feel upper back pain when they take deep breaths due to the connection of the vertebrae in the thoracic spine to the ribs. Coughing and sneezing can be painful as well. There are other cases as well when pain is felt on the neck and shoulders due to all the muscles being connected to one another. If it is related to the muscles, you should expect the other muscles located in the neck and shoulders to be affected by the pain as well.

Causes of upper back pain

In order to know the best treatment for your upper back pain, you should be familiar with the common causes for it:

• Soft tissue or muscle problems – The soft tissues that are supporting the spine and the ligaments, tendons and muscles can be strained or sprained due to overuse or misuse. Pain may result because of the following:

o Improper lifting – one should use proper posture in picking or lifting something, especially heavy ones. This helps in protecting the spine at your back. If this is ignored, it will cause pain and injury to the back.

o Carrying heavy backpack – This is likely to affect kids especially when they are going to school full of books in their backpack. It is particularly dangerous to the spine when the backpack is overloaded and the heavier the damage will be if the bag they are using only has one strap.

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o Poor posture – Proper posture whether standing, walking or sitting should be applied all the time. Slouching, shoulders forward or rounded back causes strain or stress to the muscles of the back. Bad posture is one of the common causes leading to upper back pain particularly to workers who work all day in front of the computer. Bad posture habits should be avoided.

• Injury or trauma – There are traumatic incidents that can lead to back pains such as car accidents. There is a possibility of a fracture in the spinal bone or a part of the vertebrae is pressing on the spinal nerve which causes pain as well.

• Others – Upper back pain can also be regarded as a symptom connecting to other body illnesses such as:

o Osteoporosis – this is a bone disease which weakens the bones that likely fractures them and lessens the stability to carry the weight of the body normally.

o Infections – a paraspinal abscess can squash the spinal nerves or cord in the thoracic spine which results to pain.

o Scoliosis – another disease linking to the bones although this affects the shape of the spine. It causes the spine an unusual shape like curves which either can form the spine into a C or an S. Patients with scoliosis are likely to feel upper back pain.

o Other conditions that causes pain to the upper back include ulcers, cardiac conditions like the angina and GERD or acid reflux

Treatment for upper back pain relief

There are several alternative treatments in dealing with this kind of pain. They are called CAM for some which is an abbreviation of Complementary and Alternative Medicine which does not involve surgery. Here are some of the options:

• Acupuncture – This method of alternative medicine is famous in China where it is originally developed. The method uses fine needles in treating the pain without using any medication. Acupuncture practitioners believe that the body has the energy force called Chi. When chi is blocked for particular reasons, the body will gradually develop physical illness such as back pain. Depending on the case you have and basing on the diagnosis and symptoms your body is showing, practitioners insert the needles at target points and leave them there for about twenty to forty minutes. Acupressure has almost the same principle as the acupuncture although the method does not use needles but the elbows, fingers and thumbs.

• Massage – studies showed that patients with back pains felt very satisfied with massage as their alternative treatment.


Patients have the option to choose over-the-counter medications or prescriptions from their doctors. For this, over-the-counter medications, NSAIDs and acetaminophen are recommended. A good example of acetaminophen is Tylenol which is a good reliever of pain. Doctors call this analgesic but most prefer to call these painkillers. NSAIDs help lessen the inflammation or swelling and at the same time relieving the pain as well. Best examples of NSAIDs are Aleve, aspirin or ibuprofen such as Advil.

Prescriptions for upper back pain are given to patients when over-the-counter medications did no good results. The medications that doctors prescribe their patients are muscle relaxants, prescription-strength NSAIDs, narcotics or opioids, and anti-depressants. These prescription medications should be followed exactly as the doctor instructed you to do so.

Read about lower back pain, causes and treatment

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