How do I know if my upper back pain is serious?

Back pain may occur if you move, twist or lift something the wrong way. Back pain may be serious if it is severe or if it is accompanied by fever, tingling, numbness, weight loss or other symptoms.
Back pain may occur if you move, twist or lift something the wrong way. Back pain may be serious if it is severe or if it is accompanied by fever, tingling, numbness, weight loss or other symptoms.

If you have upper and middle back pain without any other symptoms, then probably you will be able to manage your symptoms at home. Over-the-counter pain medications and heat or ice packs may relieve your symptoms. If back pain starts after you make a wrong move lifting or twisting and it then goes away within 72 hours of treatment, there is nothing to worry about. However, if the pain appears immediately or does not go away, it might indicate a severe underlying condition.

Your back pain may indicate a severe underlying medical condition if

  • Pain becomes too intense and starts to affect your daily activities.
  • You have a fever along with pain.
  • Pain that starts immediately after a fall, an accident or a sports injury.
  • Pain lingers for more than a few days and requires regular pain medications.
  • You have severe pain in the side and back below your ribs.
  • You have pain along with numbness or weakness in your arms or legs.
  • You have numbness or tingling in your arms, legs, chest or belly.
  • Pain radiates to one or both legs, especially, if the pain extends below the knee.
  • You have unexplained weight loss.

What should I know about upper back pain?

Upper back pain can start anywhere from the back of your neck to the bottom of your rib cage. These areas are less likely to trouble you compared to your lower back.

The spine or the backbone is one of the sturdiest parts of the body and gives the body the desired strength and flexibility. The spinal cord is comprised of 24 bones, known as vertebrae, and has discs in between the bones. There are several strong ligaments and muscles surrounding them that provide support to the bones. Also, the spinal cord has many small joints (facet joints) on both sides. The structures of your spine, such as the joints, discs and ligaments, start to degenerate as you age. As you age, it’s usual for your back to get stiffer.

Approximately 80 percent of adults will experience back pain in their lives. You can prevent or relieve most back pain episodes with simple home treatment and proper body mechanics. Surgery is often not needed to treat back pain.

What causes upper back pain?

Upper back pain mostly develops without a cause that your doctor may identify with a test or an imaging study. Some conditions that may cause back pain include

  • Poor posture and long sitting hours
  • Muscle or ligament strain or sprains
  • Bulging or ruptured disks
  • Improper back support on the bed or poor quality mattress
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis (bones become weak and brittle)
  • Spondylosis (age-related wear and tear of spinal discs)
  • Sprains while exercising
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of space within your spine)
  • An infection
  • A tumor
  • Carrying heavy loads or backpacks

Some of the risk factors for developing upper back pain include

How can you prevent upper back pain?

You can follow various measures to prevent upper back pain, including

  • Rest, if your back hurts a lot.
  • Use a heating pad or ice pack.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Practice good posture.
  • Learn ways to reduce stress.
  • Always stretch before starting a workout.
  • Take frequent breaks if you have a desk job.
  • Use over-the-counter painkillers to mitigate pain.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/18/2021
References
Medscape Medical Reference

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center


Mayo Clinic


Versus Arthritis


University of Michigan