Common Causes of Upper Back Pain

common causes of upper back pain

A mix of poor posture habits, bad lifting techniques, and routine overexertion all contribute to chronic upper back pain. Common causes include:

  • Poor body mechanics – especially when lifting something heavy, improper form can lead to muscle strain, microscopic tendon tears, sprains, spinal stress and ensuing pain and discomfort.
  • Bad posture habits – the body positions you take even when simply sitting at work can gravely affect the health of your back. Slumping, slouching, hunching your shoulders and a more recent phenomenon of craning the head past the shoulders and tilting it down, also known as text neck, place undue stress on the neck and back muscles.
  • Joint problems – dysfunction in one or more joints where the vertebrae of the spine connect with your ribs can cause a unique type of upper back pain that is often hard to pinpoint.
  • Illness – conditions like osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) and even infections like a spinal epidural abscess can wreak havoc on the spine and adjoining tissues.
  • Repetitive movements – if your job or a sport you play require repetitive movement or heavy lifting, which engages the upper back muscles, you may experience chronic inflammation and tension from overuse.

Diagnosing the source of upper back pain often comes down to a mix of clinical evaluations and imaging tests. Your doctor will discuss your medical history, assess your levels of mobility and pain, and potentially request tests like x-rays, bone scans, MRIs, blood tests and even nerve studies to rule out more serious underlying conditions that could be causing your pain.

Upper Back Pain Symptoms

Because the upper back is so intrinsically connected to the shoulders and neck, chronic pain symptoms can vary and present in multiple areas. Common upper back pain symptoms include:

  • Muscle tightness and stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Sharp pain in upper back when taking a breath
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tenderness and inflammation
  • Weakness, tingling or numbness in one or more arms
  • Radiating pain up the neck and down the arms
  • Increase in dull aching or soreness at night

Treatment Tips for Managing Upper Back Pain

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