Upper back pain can occur anywhere between the base of the neck and the bottom of the rib cage. Upper back pain may be caused by injuries or fractures, poor posture, disk problems or other issues, such as arthritis. People with mild to moderate upper back pain can usually manage their symptoms at home.
Upper back pain (and middle back pain) occurs anywhere from the base of your neck to the bottom of your rib cage. Your upper and middle back is called the thoracic spine. Your thoracic spine has 12 small bones called vertebrae. Your vertebrae form your backbone.
Each of the vertebrae on your thoracic spine is connected to a pair of ribs. Your ribs wrap around your body to a long, flat bone down the center of your chest called the sternum. This forms your rib cage.
Your upper back also has disks that separate each vertebrae. These disks absorb shock as you move. There are also many muscles and ligaments in your upper back that hold your spine together. Upper back pain may be caused by many different medical issues or injuries to the bones, disks, muscles and ligaments in your upper back.
Upper back pain is not as common as neck pain or low back pain. This is because the bones in the upper area of your back don't move or flex as much as the bones in your neck and lower back. The bones in your upper back work with the ribs to keep the back stable. They work together to help protect vital organs in your body including your heart and lungs.
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Upper back pain may be caused by many different medical conditions and injuries. Conditions that may cause upper back pain include:
People describe the feeling of upper back pain in many different ways. Some people describe upper back pain as feeling like:
Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your medical history, activity level and symptoms. They will also ask you questions about your pain. These questions may include:
Your healthcare provider may do a physical exam. They may have you lift or bend your legs to see how moving affects your pain. Your healthcare provider may test your muscle strength and reflexes.
Depending on what your healthcare provider finds, they may order additional tests. These tests may include:
Your treatment will depend on the causes and symptoms of your pain. People with mild to moderate upper back pain can usually manage their symptoms at home. You can try managing your symptoms with:
There are many ways you can prevent or reduce upper back pain at home. Additional ways include:
Upper back pain usually gets better on its own. Call your healthcare provider if:
These may be a sign of a more serious condition.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Upper back pain may not be as common as lower back pain, but it can still greatly affect your quality of life. While you can’t always avoid upper back pain, there are ways to help prevent it. Make sure to stand up straight, get plenty of exercise and try to reduce your stress. If your pain doesn’t improve, call your healthcare provider. They can help you figure out what’s causing you pain and get you back on track.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/26/2022.
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