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Upper back pain 

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 25.04.2023 | 3 min read

Upper back pain occurs in the area known as the thoracic region. It is typically felt in the mid-back between the shoulder blades and the neck.  Pains here can vary in intensity, severity, and character. 

What are common causes of upper back pain?

Upper back pain is most commonly caused by poor posture putting a strain on your muscles and ligaments. 

It can also be caused by overuse or underuse of your muscles or an accident or injury. Other conditions leading to upper back pain include osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, narrowing of the canal nerves run through (spinal stenosis), slipped disc, or autoimmune conditions like ankylosing spondylitis.

Upper back pain can also be pain that is referred from another place, such as organs at the front of your body like the pancreas, liver, or lung. Rarer conditions such as bone cancer can also cause this. Back pain that doesn’t have a clear cause is called non-specific back pain.

Caidr pharmacists' top tips

Usually, upper back pain goes away on its own within a couple of weeks. There are some home treatment methods you can try to help speed along this process. Taking adequate rest and breaks away from anything that could aggravate your symptoms is a sensible first step.

Gentle stretches and exercises, improving your posture and using simple painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen to help reduce pain and inflammation. Using ice packs or heat packs on the area, depending on how long the pain has been going on, can be effective in reducing inflammation and soothing your symptoms. 

Further treatment may depend on what your doctor thinks the underlying cause may be. They may refer you to a physiotherapist, who can arrange injections and other therapies or involve other specialists such as a rheumatologist or an orthopaedic doctor. 

When should I see my doctor?

If your back pain is significantly affecting your daily activities or affecting your sleep you should contact your doctor. If your symptoms are not improving, worsening or persisting for more than two weeks despite home treatment methods or you are feeling stiff in the morning, it is sensible to speak with your doctor. If you are in the age groups younger than 20 or older than 50 with persistent back pain then seeing your doctor routinely for an examination would be the best next step.

Some reasons to see your doctor more urgently about your back pain include having had a nasty trauma or injury to your back, if you’ve previously had cancer or you have a weakened immune system, and if there are severe symptoms such as fever, unexplained weight loss, poor appetite, weakness in your legs, loss of control of urine or faeces.

What will my doctor do?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms including any red flag symptoms and examine your back muscles and movement. Depending on what your doctor suspects, they may refer you for further tests including blood tests and scans. They may refer you to a specialist to carry out these investigations on their behalf. 

Related topics

Read about Neck pain

Read about Shoulder pain

Read about Costochondritis

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