Upper Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Upper Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Written by Mitchell Robinson

Your upper back goes from the bottom of your ribcage to the base of your neck. It involves the 12 vertebrae in your thoracic spine. Upper back pain can happen anywhere in this area.

What causes upper back pain?

Upper back pain is less common than lower back pain but it’s still distressing.

Common causes of upper back pain include:

  • Prolonged posture: No posture is inherently bad but holding any posture for an extended period of time can cause pain. I pity those poor guards standing bolt upright outside Buckingham Palace for hours on end!
  • Overuse: Repeated overuse of the same muscles can also lead to tightness or strain in your upper back muscles.
  • Trauma: An sudden injury like a car crash or a series of micro traumas in the gym may also lead to upper back pain by damaging bones, discs, ligaments or muscles.
  • A degenerating disc: Between each bony vertebrae sits a soft, spongy disc that cushions your spine and enables easy movement. Your discs can degenerate though, slipping, bulging or herniating and pressing on your spinal nerves. That hurts!
  • A pinched nerve: Arthritis, a slipped disc, ageing, obesity or diabetes can all lead to a compressed nerve in your upper back.
  • Osteoarthritis: The cartilage between your bones may wear away, causing joint pain and nerve pain.

In rarer cases, your upper back pain may be due to:

  • A spinal infection: This may cause an abscess to form deep in your spine, requiring treatment with antibiotics or even surgery.
  • Lung cancer: In very rare cases, lung cancer may cause upper back pain
  • Abnormally curving spine: Your spine is meant to curve but some conditions like scoliosis, kyphosis and lordosis cause it to curve too much. That may lead to upper back pain.

What are the symptoms of upper back pain?

The symptoms of upper back pain vary depending on which part of your back has been affected.

If you’ve overdone it at the gym, you may notice muscle-related pain, tightness, stiffness or tenderness. This will usually settle by itself after a few days.

However, if your pain relates to the bones, discs or nerves, you may experience more serious symptoms including incontinence, numbness or weakness. If you have upper back pain alongside these symptoms, then you should see a doctor immediately.

How do you treat upper back pain?

There are a few ways to alleviate upper back pain. You can try:

  • Lifestyle changes such as improving your fitness, losing weight, improving your posture and avoiding prolonged sitting.
  • Physiotherapy to address muscle imbalances, improve posture, and strengthen your upper back.
  • Identification and treatment of any underlying conditions that may cause upper back pain such as arthritis, diabetes, disc degeneration or (in very rare cases) cancer.
  • Surgery to decompress a pinched nerve if other treatments have not worked.

How can Sycamore Health help?

Almost every movement you make involves your back. You need to be able to rely on it.

Sycamore Health is here to help you with your upper back pain. Our doctors and physios are here to help you find out what’s going on with your back, address the underlying cause and relieve the symptoms.

Come and see us today.



All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.

Insert Image
Scroll to Top