Upper back pain is due to an underlying medical issue or damage to the thoracic spine, which contains your vertebrae. Your vertebrae consist of 12 small bones, and disks separate each vertebra. During movement, these disks absorb shock.
Additionally, several other ligaments and muscles make up your upper back.
Upper back pain refers to pain experienced between the bottom of your rib cage to the base of your neck. This pain can result from injury or conditions affecting the bones, muscles, disks, and ligaments within your upper back1.
How Common is Upper Back Pain?
Upper back pain occurs less frequently than lower back or neck pain. This is because there is less movement and flexibility of the bones in your upper back compared with other areas1.
What Causes Upper Back Pain?
There are multiple reasons why you may have upper back pain. Most commonly, discomfort is caused by:
Poor posture.Having bad posture can strain your upper back. Poor posture includes not standing or sitting up straight, causing structural changes to the neck and back. When your spine is not aligned, it adds pressure on your bones, muscles, disks, tissues, and ligaments. This added pressure can manifest as upper back pain.
Strain. Injury to your muscles, ligaments, or tendons most commonly causes sprains and strains. Damage can happen when you use an improper technique to lift something heavy, for example.
Fracture. If you get into a collision or have an accident, your spine can break. Additionally, you may injure other parts of your back, such as the disks and nerves, causing pain2.
Understanding what may be contributing to your upper back pain can help to select your treatment options.
Management of your upper back pain will depend on your symptoms and what is causing the pain. Typically, you can adequately treat mild to moderate pain at home using the methods below.
Like other types of pain, you can manage upper back pain with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. Common efficacious agents include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. Another option is acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol.
Heat and cold
Applying more extreme temperatures to the area of discomfort can help minimize symptoms. A warm bath or heating pad can aid in reducing pain and stiffness. Alternatively, applying an ice pack can decrease swelling and pain. Cold therapy is best used for pain during the first few days, while heat can be applied after the first 48 hours.
Allowing your body to rest for a day or two can help relieve upper back pain. Rest is beneficial in the instance of a back injury or strain. When resting, ensure that you do not lift any heavy objects and maintain an appropriate posture.
A massage from a professional can loosen the muscles in your back, promote blood flow, and provide relief. These effects may only be temporary, but can reduce symptoms in the short term1,2.