Upper and Mid Back Pain

The upper and mid back is made up of 12 bones (vertebrae) stacked one above the other, and is called the thoracic spine. It extends from the base of your neck to the level of your lowest rib. This region has less mobility than the neck and lower back, so pain is less common.

Causes of upper and mid back pain include:

  • Poor posture
  • Strain or injury of the supporting muscles or ligaments
  • Fracture of vertebrae
  • Wear (arthritis) or damage to the spongy discs (cartilage) present between two vertebrae
  • Myofascial pain that affects the connective tissue surrounding muscles
  • Rarely cancer, infection and gallbladder disease

Upper and mid back pain can be experienced as a dull, sharp, burning pain associated with muscle stiffness. Weakness, numbness or tingling sensation in your arms and legs, or loss of bowel and bladder control may also be present, and require immediate attention.

To identify the source and severity of your pain, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical examination. Imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI may be ordered to identify fractures, herniated discs or other pathology.

Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter pain medication for cases of mild to moderate pain. Heat and ice application, massage, spinal manipulation may also be performed. For more severe cases, prescription pain medication including antidepressants, muscle relaxants or narcotics may be recommended. Spinal injections are administered for cases of extreme pain. Surgery is rarely necessary. Physical therapy is recommended to strengthen the back and prevent recurrences.

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