What is upper back pain?
Upper back pain is any type of pain or discomfort throughout the back side of the chest and upper abdominal area. The upper back area includes the shoulder blades and where the rib cage connects to the thoracic (chest region) spine. The upper back is also referred to as the middle back or the thoracic spine.
Most people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. However, pain in the upper back is not as common as lower back pain. Upper back pain is not as common because the thoracic spine does not move as much as the spine in the lower back and neck.
Upper back pain may either be acute, lasting briefly or it may be chronic, lasting longer than three months. Your pain may be dull and throbbing or sharp and stabbing. You may be in constant pain, or perhaps the pain occurs only during a particular activity, such as lifting grocery bags or after working at your desk for a prolonged period of time.
In addition to the thoracic spine and shoulder blades, there are numerous nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the upper back. Any of these structures can become irritated or inflamed in response to a variety of different factors and conditions, such as poor posture, overuse, trauma, arthritis, and bone cancer. However, most upper back pain causes involve muscle irritation or joint problems and are usually not a cause for concern.
Upper back pain occurring with other symptoms, such as chest pain or difficulty breathing, may be a sign of a heart attack and should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. In addition, if your pain is extreme, persistent, or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.
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- Lower back pain fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm
- Warning signs of heart attack, stroke & cardiac arrest. American Heart Association. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4595