What is upper back pain?

Upper back pain is any type of pain or discomfort throughout the back side of the chest and upper abdominal area. The upper back area includes the shoulder blades and where the rib cage connects to the thoracic (chest region)  spine. The upper back is also referred to as the middle back or the thoracic spine.

Most people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. However, upper back pain is not as common as lower back pain, which is the most common cause of job-related disability and absenteeism from work, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Upper back pain is not as common because the thoracic spine does not move as much as the spine in the lower back and neck.

Upper back pain may last briefly or it may be chronic, which is defined as lasting more than three months. Your pain may be dull and throbbing or sharp and stabbing. You may be in constant pain, or perhaps the pain occurs only during a particular activity, such as lifting grocery bags or after working at your desk for a prolonged period of time.

In addition to the thoracic spine and shoulder blades, there are numerous nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the upper back. Any of these structures can become irritated or inflamed in response to a variety of different factors and conditions, such as poor posture, overuse, trauma, arthritis, and bone cancer. However, upper back pain is most often due to muscle irritation or joint problems and is usually not a cause for concern.

Upper back pain occurring with other symptoms, such as chest pain or difficulty breathing, may be a sign of a heart attack and should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. In addition, if your pain is extreme, persistent, or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with upper back pain?

Upper back pain may occur with other symptoms depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Upper back pain due to infection or inflammation may be accompanied by a fever; whereas, back pain due to fibromyalgia may include symptoms such as insomnia and fatigue. The range of symptoms that may occur with ... Read more about upper back painsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes upper back pain?

The upper back consists of the thoracic spine (bony structures called vertebrae surrounding the nerves of the spinal cord). Between the vertebrae are spongy sacs of cartilage called discs that act as a cushion and provide a range of motion to the back. Muscles, tendons and ligaments provide additional support. Any of these structures in the back can become irritated or inflamed in response to a... Read more about upper back paincauses

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 11, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles, Fibromyalgia, Back Pain


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