Sharp Pain in Upper Back

Sharp upper back pain is a relatively common complaint. Upper back pain usually encompasses the neck and shoulder region. It can be the consequence of an injury or trauma, an illness, or bad prolonged posture. This makes it a common occurrence in individuals who sit for extended periods of time during the day. In this article we will explore the common causes of upper back pain, treatments, and some helpful home remedies.

Causes of sharp upper back pain


Large muscles in your upper back connect the shoulder girdle to the shoulder blades and the rib cage. These expansive muscles can become inflamed, which can cause pain and discomfort in the upper back.

The main causes of muscular inflammation are sport injuries, muscle strains, and accidents.

Muscular upper back pain responds most favourably to physical treatments. These include physical therapy, chiropractic advice, massage, and acupuncture. Individuals who are suffering from muscular back pain should visit a physician or a chiropractor for treatment advice.

If there is a precise location on your back that is in pain, it may be caused by an active trigger point. This can be relieved through massage, acupuncture, or trigger point injections.

Pain medication may prove beneficial for any variant of muscular back pain. Anti-Inflammatory medication can be highly effective at relieving the pain and discomfort caused by muscular back strain.

Joint Dysfunction

Your ribs are connected to the spine through two joints, which are located on either side of your spine. Problems with these joints can cause upper back pain.

Treatment for a dysfunctional joint usually involves physical therapy in order to reduce the tenderness of the joint. Treatment is usually long term with a precise and effective home exercise program that will stretch the spine and shoulders. Aerobic exercise is an ideal form of exercise and has proven effective at reducing back pain caused by joint problems.

Pain medication is extremely beneficial for joint related back pain. Sufferers should take anti-inflammatory medications, such as Ibuprofen, as needed.

Rare Causes

The thoracic spine, located in the chest region, experiences very little motion and is actually quite stable. It is therefore very rare for a disc herniation to occur in this part of the spine. However, it is still possible and around 1 per cent of upper back pain is caused by a disc herniation.

A spinal disc herniation can be caused by an accident or prolonged bad posture. The common symptoms of this condition are pain, numbness and tingling, weakness and bladder problems. Treatment for this condition includes rest, ice to the affected area, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and oral steroid medications.

Spinal stenosis is another rare condition that can cause upper back pain. This pain is the result of your spine narrowing, which puts pressure on the spinal cord. Symptoms for spinal stenosis are numbness and pain in the upper back, neck and shoulders, and weakness in the arms and legs. Treatment will be at the discretion of your doctor, but will normally involve physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, ice or heat packs applied to the sore areas, and medication.

Very seldom is upper back pain caused by thoracic disc disease, thought it can be diagnosed by your doctor with clinical assessment.

How to relieve sharp upper back pain

There are a few things that you can do from the comfort of your home to relieve sharp upper back pain. These include:

Rest: This is paramount in relieving upper back pain. If you experience chronic back pain, it is important that you take a break, and put your feet up. After a few days of rest you should slowly return to activities, as prolonged bed rest can actually aggravate back pain.

Medications: Non-prescription pain medications, such as Tylenol, can aid in relieving pain and anti-inflammatory medication, such as Advil, can reduce pain and inflammation.

Cold or heat: A heat pad applied to the back can reduce pain and rigidity, while an ice pack can reduce tenderness and inflammation.

Exercise: The specific type of exercise that will be beneficial to your back will depend upon its cause. A doctor or physical therapist may be able to recommend a specific type of exercise that will be most beneficial to relieving your back pain. They may recommend simple shoulder rolls, neck rolls, or shoulder shrugs. These exercises should be repeated 3-4 times each. Yoga and Pilates are also extremely beneficial in reducing pain and relaxing back muscles.

Posture: When sitting make sure that your back is straight and your shoulders and stomach are pulled inwards. This posture will support your spine and put less stress on your back. It is important that you refrain from slouching or hunching over.

Sharp upper back pain is normally related to your muscles or joints, but there are rare incidents in which it is caused by thoracic diseases or a herniated disc. That is why it is important that you seek medical attention if you are experiencing back pain for 3-4 days. Your doctor will provide an accurate diagnosis.