upper back pain relief

Possible causes of pain in your upper back

07 Feb 2023


Back pain is one of the most common sorts of pain and it usually improves within a couple of weeks.

Pain in your upper back is not as common as pain in the lower back and this is because your lower back takes more of the load of your body’s weight and is therefore under a lot more strain.

However, upper back problems are still very common, and usually affects women, children and teenagers.1

Upper back pain can vary from person to person as well as depending what has caused the pain.

Pain can vary from mild to severe and can be a sharp pain in one particular spot or a general aching across the whole of the upper back, which comes and goes.2

But what causes pain in your upper back and is there anything you can do about it?

What is meant by upper back?

When we refer to the “upper back”, we mean the area between the base of the neck and the bottom of the ribcage.

The upper back is made up of 12 bones which are called the thoracic spine.3

As well as this, there are discs which separate each vertebra and absorb shocks as you move, also allowing your spine to bend.

Muscles and ligaments in your spine help to hold it together.4

Any pain which is felt from the bottom of the ribcage up to the base of the neck can be described as upper back pain or upper backache.

What causes upper back pain?

In order to find out the best way to relieve your upper back pain, it is important to first narrow down what has caused the pain in the first place.

There are a number of things which could be causing you discomfort.

Here are some of the most common back pain causes:

Bad posture

Sitting for long periods of time, in a chair with little support, combined with bad posture can lead to structural damage in the back.

Head and shoulders hunching forward or leaning over to one side can cause an imbalance in the back, which leads to a sore back.5 If your work involves sitting for long periods of time at a computer desk, ensure that you have a good quality office chair which supports your back and make a conscious effort to adjust your posture, if you feel yourself hunching forward or slouching. For a good seating position, ensure that you are sitting up straight, maintain contact between your back and the seat, and keep your feet flat on the floor.6 As well as this, try to keep a good posture while you are walking.7 Keep your head and chest upright – imagine walking while blancing a book on your head to help keep your spine in line!

Whiplash injury

Whiplash is commonly caused by a car accident but can also be caused by falling, sports, or being shaken or punched.

Your neck is very flexible (and your head it heavy) and so when it moves forcefully backwards and forwards, this can cause back strain.8

Whiplash usually goes away on its own after a few days. But if pain persists, you should see a doctor.

Being overweight

People who are overweight are more likely to suffer from back pain.

The excess weight that is being carried by someone who is obese puts additional pressure on the spine, increasing the risk of injury to both the back and the spine.9

Ensure that you keep your Body Mass Index (BMI) within the recommended range.

For most adults, an ideal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9.10 If you are overweight, you should consider trying to lose weight by changing to a more balanced diet and partaking in regular exercise. The NHS recommends that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week or 75 minutes of intense activity per week.11

When should you see a doctor about upper back pain?

Upper back pain and will often ease after a few days or weeks.

However, if the pain is severe or you have other symptoms, such as numbness or tingling in your limbs, you should seek immediate medical advice.12

Last updated: 23 October 2020