Upper Back Pain

Lower back pain is more common than upper back pain, but the latter often causes extreme discomfort. The area involved extends from the base of the neck to the lower part of the rib cage. The upper and middle back involves the thoracic spine, the area below the neck consisting of 12 vertebrae along with ribs.

If you experience upper back pain for more than a few days, it is crucial to have a Tampa Bay spinal cord doctor diagnose the issue and start treatment. See a doctor immediately if upper back pain begins after a traumatic injury or if neurological symptoms develop.

Causes of Pain

Upper back pain often results in movement limitation. Frequent cases of lower back pain, such as degenerated discs, rarely occur in the upper back. That is because the upper back is more stable and does not move as much as the lower back. The constant movement causes more wear and tear on discs.

That does not mean degenerated discs do not occur in the upper back, but they are far less likely to do so. However, pain from lower back afflictions may show up in the upper back. Common causes of upper back pain include:

  • Arthritis
  • Fractures
  • Infection
  • Joint Dysfunction
  • Kyphosis – hunchback
  • Muscle or other soft tissue issues
  • Poor posture
  • Scoliosis
  • Tumor

Kidney problems may manifest themselves as aching in the upper back, as can some cardiac conditions. Risk factors for upper back pain include obesity, lack of fitness, and heavy lifting. Sedentary individuals, who spend long days at the computer or watching TV, are at higher risk of developing upper back pain.


Besides pain, patients with upper back problems often experience muscle spasms and stiffness. Most patients with upper back pain experience constant, dull aching as opposed to sharp pain, but there are exceptions. Upper back pain often worsens at night, while trying to sleep.

Some patients report headaches accompanying their upper back pain and/or pain spreading across their shoulder blades. Less frequently, numbness and tingling or weakness may occur in the arms or legs. Taking a deep breath may increase pain levels.

Diagnosing Upper Back Pain

The doctor performs a physical examination and takes the patient’s medical history. Diagnostic tests used for patients with upper back pain include:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans

Upper Back Pain Treatment

Treatment for upper back pain depends on the diagnosis. Muscle issues are among the most common reasons for upper back pain. The doctor may suggest the use of over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as naproxen or ibuprofen, or prescribe muscle relaxants for short-term use. For patients with severe pain, the doctor may inject pain-relieving medications into the affected area. Patients with severe pain may need these epidural injections in order to start an exercise or physical therapy regimen.

For most patients, the doctor will recommend physical therapy or exercises and stretches for strengthening back muscles. Upper back pain does not usually require surgery, although it may become necessary if long-term, conservative treatments do not offer relief. If nerve damage is diagnosed, decompression surgery is necessary. Spinal fusion for stabilization is needed for some patients. Patients with kyphosis may undergo surgery as a treatment of last resort.

Consult With Tampa Spine Surgeons Today

If you suffer from upper back pain, call a Tampa spine surgeon today and make an appointment for an examination and to discuss your options.