Upper Back Pain


The upper back is an amazingly resilient part of your body. Most back pain patients experience occurs in the lower back, which is more prone to injury or wear and tear. However, even the upper back can experience pain because of forces that compromise its sturdiness, including trauma or poor posture.

Many people attempt to manage their upper back pain on their own by using over-the-counter pain medications or home remedies and techniques. But if upper back pain begins impacting your work and your personal life, keeping you from doing the activities you enjoy, then it’s time to seek out professional medical care. The team at Spine Institue of North America is here to provide our patients with relief from the struggle of upper back pain.

What Is Upper Back Pain?

Although the spine is made up of 33 vertebrae, the upper back only consists of 12 of these, also referred to as the thoracic spine. This portion of the back acts as an anchor for the rib cage and also protects vital internal organs within your chest. The rib cage also offers a lot of support and stability for the upper spine, which is why injury so seldom effects it.

However, just because the lower back is more prone to injury or pain doesn’t mean the upper back is entirely in the clear. A variety of body parts make up this part of your back, including ligaments, muscles and the spinal discs that act as shock absorbers between your vertebrae. Damage or injury to any of these can bring about upper back pain.

The Symptoms Associated With Upper Back Pain

Pain in the upper back differs from patient to patient, and the symptoms are as varied as each person. For some, the pain will be mild, while it’s sharp and intense for others, making daily tasks more difficult. Some symptoms associated with upper back pain include:

  • Sharp or dull pain, generally in one location
  • Reduced mobility and stiffness
  • Radiating pain
  • Tingling, weakness or numbness in arms, chest, stomach or lower areas of the body

When upper back pain is severe, symptoms could be more extreme and include:

  • Chest pain
  • Loss of control to the bladder or bowels

Causes of Upper Back Pain

When you come to our office, we make it our goal to nail down the cause of your upper back pain. We know how this type of injury can impede your work and personal life, which is why we seek out the cause and course of treatment that works best for you. Among other conditions, some of the most common causes of upper back pain we see may include:

  • Lifestyle Choices: A variety of decisions you make every day could bring about upper back pain. This includes poor posture, improper lifting techniques, overuse or repetitive motions.
  • Strain or Sprain: This injury occurs when your muscles, ligaments or tendons tear or stretch because of a sudden, awkward movement.
  • Accident, Fall or Collision: Trauma due to a sports injury, car accident, fall or another incident can lead to upper back pain.
  • Herniated or Ruptured Disc: This is when the protective disc between your vertebrae becomes compressed, bulges or even ruptures.
  • Fractures: When a vertebra breaks, this can cause severe pain that requires immediate medical intervention.
  • Arthritis: Though several different types of arthritis exist, the most common one to affect the upper back is osteoarthritis.
  • Scoliosis or Kyphosis: An irregular curvature of the spine can cause upper back pain.

What Can Cause Pain Between the Shoulder Blades?

Some of our patients don’t just struggle with general upper back pain — they may also experience targeted symptoms located between their shoulder blades. Also called interscapular pain, the cause of this is usually minor. However, it could point to a more serious issue, as pain is our body’s way of letting us know that something is wrong.

The most common problems we see patients facing when they’re experiencing pain between their shoulder blades include:

  • Muscle strain
  • Trauma
  • Arthritis
  • Herniated or bulging discs
  • Scoliosis
  • Compression fractures
  • Or underlying health conditions

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in Your Upper Back

Nerves extend from your brain all the way down your spinal cord. From there, they continue throughout your body. When you have a pinched nerve, also called a compressed nerve, your brain perceives this as mild to severe pain. Pinched nerves can lead to extensive damage, so it’s essential to receive a diagnosis as soon as possible. Nerves appear at vulnerable places throughout your upper back and can get pressed between ligaments, tendons and bones. A pinched nerve can also be a result of inflammation or herniated discs.

When a nerve is compressed, pain is an obvious initial signal. You will feel this uncomfortable sensation in the area of the back where the pinched nerve has occurred. Other symptoms may include:

  • Radiating or radicular pain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • A burning or “pins and needles” sensation
  • Weakness

Specific movements can increase the severity of these symptoms.

Treatment Options for Upper Back Pain

Depending on the cause of your upper back pain, we could employ a variety of treatment options to bring relief and get your back to full function. We always strive to use conservative options. However, for some issues, surgical intervention may be required.

We have a range of non-surgical techniques we can employ, which could include specific exercises, massage, compresses, medication or a combination of several of these methods. We also use different kinds of injections which either harness the body’s natural healing ability, like platelet-rich plasma injections, or give patients short-term pain relief.

If your upper back pain becomes too severe, we may recommend a least or minimally invasive surgical procedure, including:

  • Cervical radiofrequency ablation
  • Lumbar frequency ablation
  • Dekompressor discectomy
  • Spinal cord stimulator
  • Kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty

If you’re struggling with upper back pain, don’t try to deal with it on your own. Come to New Jersey’s own Spine Institute of North America for premier care and treatment options. We’d be happy to help, so make an appointment today.

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