What Causes Upper and Middle Back Pain?


Sprains, Strains, and Other Injuries

The complex thoracic spine carries a lot of the body's stress and is involved in most upper body movements. Many cases of upper and middle back pain are caused by external forces that can stress the muscles, ligaments, and discs, such as:

  • Muscle stress and strain. Discomfort may result from poor posture, not lifting correctly, or muscle overuse.
  • Accidents. An injury sustained during a sports or car accident can cause upper and middle back pain.

Spine conditions affecting the upper and middle back

Sometimes certain spine conditions can cause thoracic back pain. Treating the condition can lead to relief of the discomfort. Examples of these conditions include: 

  • Disc degeneration is not as common in the thoracic spine as in the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back). However, if it does occur, it can lead to herniation or bulging of a disc that places pressure on a spinal nerve (pinched nerve), causing upper and middle back pain.
  • Compression fractures. Osteoporosis is the most common cause of compression fractures in older adults. These may cause mild to severe discomfort. 
  • Traumatic fractures caused by injury to the spine.
  • Severe spinal deformity. A severe curve in the thoracic spine can strain muscles and spinal discs. Examples include scoliosis and Scheuermann's kyphosis.
  • Arthritis may include osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis (a kind of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine).
  • Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that causes pain throughout the body. 
  • Stenosis, a narrowing that places pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.
  • Cancer may originate in the spine or spread there from other sites, such as prostate cancer.

Common Upper and Middle Back Pain Symptoms


Upper and middle back pain can affect everyday movement and make routine tasks such as getting dressed or playing sports extremely difficult. This pain can start suddenly or develop gradually. Upper and middle back pain symptoms may include:

  • Sharp pain, often described as a burning sensation or knife-like pain. This sharp pain can be limited to one spot or may become radiating pain that travels along a nerve to other areas.
  • General achiness may begin in one region and spread to a nearby area.
  • Stiffness resulting from reduced mobility in your back may be caused by pain or achiness.
  • Tingling (pins and needles), numbness, or weakness may feel like a nerve is being compressed.

Can You Prevent Upper and Middle Back Pain?


Although you may not be able to prevent a thoracic spine deformity or certain diseases that cause upper and middle back pain, you can take steps to keep your spine healthy and lower the chance of developing upper and middle back pain. 

  • Maintain good posture by consciously aligning your head, neck, and upper and middle back when sitting, standing, and moving.
  • Get regular physical activity, including cardiovascular workouts and strength training.
  • Watch your weight, eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid smoking, which causes damage to the blood vessels and can increase the risk of degenerative spine diseases.
  • Lift using your leg muscles rather than your back, and avoid lifting while bending or twisting.
  • Set up a spine-friendly workspace, with the top of your computer monitor at eye level and your knees slightly lower than your hips when sitting. Use a desk chair with a seat that supports your back.

When Is Upper and Middle Back Pain Serious Enough to Seek Treatment?

When to Seek Treatment

Upper and middle back pain that doesn't go away, gets worse or limits your daily activities may require a trip to the doctor. Make an appointment to see a physician soon if you have:

  • Numbness, weakness, or tingling. Compression of a nerve in the thoracic spine can cause pain or tingling that wraps around the back toward the chest; stenosis in the thoracic spine may compress the spinal cord and cause pain that radiates into the legs, which is more serious. 
  • Chronic thoracic pain that continues for weeks
  • Difficulty walking or balancing
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
Get Care

Get Upper and Middle Back Pain Relief at Och Spine at NewYork-Presbyterian

If you've been struggling with upper and middle back pain and can't seem to get relief, it may be time to see a trained expert.

At Och Spine, our thoracic spine specialists have taken care of people with every type of upper and middle back problem, and they can help you too. You'll receive personalized attention, understanding, and a customized plan of care.

Contact us now to schedule a consultation.