Upper Back Pain

learn more about types of upper back pain and their causes

Upper back pain is something almost everyone will experience in their lifetime. Pain in the upper back comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, often making it hard to diagnose what the pain is, and where it is coming from. Pain in your upper back can vary from an acute pain to a cervical spine condition. Because of this, below we have created a graphic to help you identify which type of upper back pain you are suffering from. Is it your right upper back? Pain in between your shoulder blades? Or maybe you’re experiencing pain that radiates all over your back. Start by locating the trigger point of your back pain with the graphic below. Once you have found it, read about the potential conditions that occur in this area.

My Pain is Located Here:

learn more about pain in the upper back and neck and the possible causes

Upper Back and Neck Pain

If you’re experiencing pain in the area highlighted above, that is your cervical spine. The anatomy of your cervical spine consists of bones, ligaments, nerves, muscles, and tendons. Neck pain is a very common complaint and can be caused by a wide variety of reasons. Neck pain can be acute and not serious, while other neck conditions may leave a person struggling to make it through the day. Read the underlined descriptions below to find which neck pain you’re most likely experiencing and why.

My neck pain comes and goes. It hasn’t been happening for very long (less than a month) and is usually focused in one area. The pain worsens when I hold myself in certain positions for long periods of time, like working on my computer.

You most likely have: Simple Muscle Strain or Sprain

Causes: Simple muscle strains or sprains are the most common forms of neck injuries. These injuries usually last no longer than a couple of weeks (if your injury is lasting longer- keep reading you may have something else). These strains are usually caused by overuse or overextension of the cervical spine. The most common causes of simple neck muscle strains or sprains is poor posture (check out our new posture brace), sports injury, repetitive motion, sleeping in the wrong position, and whiplash.

use a posture brace to help treat your upper back pain

Treatments: Protecting the strained muscle as it heals is the most important part of the recovery in this circumstance. Muscle sprain because of poor posture can be corrected with a variety of posture correcting braces. If you have a more severe issue with your neck and cervical spine consider more intense bracing, like this cervical collar. Intense braces are great options to protect and heal your neck. Consider icing your neck area to help alleviate the problem.  

My pain originates at my neck but radiates down through my shoulders, arms, and even hands. The pain is almost like a sharp burning sensation.

You most likely have: Cervical Radiculopathy

Causes: Cervical radiculopathy, also known as a “pinched nerve”. This happens when the neck is compressed or irritated at the point where it branches from the spinal cord. In older individuals, this injury stems mostly from aging. However, younger people who experience a pinched nerve most likely had a herniated disc prior.

Treatments: Thankfully, this condition most often has an expiration date. To ensure it’s treated, many people use conservative methods while they are healing. The most popular methods include bracing, medication, and physical therapy. However, for those of you whose condition isn’t improving, consulting with a doctor is vital to ensure you are healthy again. In severe cases, surgery can be an option. 

My pain originates at my neck but radiates in between my shoulder blades. The pain and stiffness is at it’s worse first thing in the morning and improves as I begin moving around. When I’m lying down and resting I have the most relief.

You most likely have: Cervical Osteoarthritis

Causes: Osteoarthritis is a degenerative form of joint arthritis most often associated with aging. It affects the facet joints, intervertebral discs, and ligaments in the spin.

Treatments: Primary treatment includes physical therapy, weight loss, and anti-inflammatory medication. Wearing a brace made for osteoarthritis is a great way to recover. Learn about osteoarthritis braces.

My neck is in a lot of pain and feels stiff. I notice the pain when I’m upright and moving my head. I have episodes where the pain gets much more severe and is even felt in my lower back.

You most likely have: Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease

Causes: Degeneration of the disc is a natural process of aging. When the aging occurs more rapidly or prematurely it is considered “degeneration”. This process reduces the flexibility of the disc and often the height of the disc.

Treatments: There are many forms of treatment outside of surgery for those suffering from cervical degenerative disc disease. It’s important you avoid painful position and protect your neck with a brace, like this one. To manage the pain, anti-inflammatory medication is helpful, along with steroid pills. If none of these options are not helping your pain, consulting with your doctor about surgery may be your best option.

My Pain is Located Here:

learn more about upper back and shoulder blade pain

Between Shoulder Blade Pain

If you’re experiencing pain in between your shoulder blades you should not ignore it. Unfortunately, pain in the shoulder blades can be a variety of things, making it hard to diagnose. Shoulder blade pain can range from bad posture to a serious illness. Read the bolded descriptions below to find which neck pain you’re most likely experiencing and why.

I’m experiencing acute to mild pain between my shoulder blades. It most often occurs when I’ve been performing a new activity, haven’t been holding my posture well, spending a lot of time sitting at a desk, or after heavy lifting.

You most likely have: Mild Muscle Irritation

Causes: Most often, muscle irritation occurs from some level of discomfort to any given area. You’re most likely to experience this if you are working a sedentary job or performing an activity your body isn't used to.

Treatments: Because muscle irritation between the shoulder blades stems from bad posture, posture correction is the best solution. Wearing a posture brace will help to ensure that your muscles memory is correcting its natural stance. Correcting the natural stance will relieve the pain you’ve been experiencing. Check out BraceAbility’s new posture corrector.

My pain began in my upper abdomen and was primarily on my right side. Lately, the pain has been radiating to my upper back, mostly in between my shoulder blades.

You most likely have: Gallbladder Disease

Causes: Gallbladder disease is caused most often in two different ways. In one scenario gallstones form and in the other scenario the gallbladder is inflamed. Gallbladder disease is known for causing lots of pain and can be extremely debilitating for a person. Gallbladder disease is widely known for having referred pain (pain that exists outside of the trigger point).

Treatments: If you think you may have gallbladder disease it’s best you consult with a doctor. Most often people will initially be prescribed antibiotics.

I’m experiencing pain between my shoulder blades that restricts movement in my back, particularly in the morning (stiffing my back). The pain is can be so frustrating that I have trouble sleeping.

You most likely have: Thoracic Facet Joint Strain

Causes: Thoracic facet joint strain occurs when the small joints between the vertebrae (facet joints), are overloaded or overworked. This is most often a result of poor posture or sudden movement of the joint. The facet joints inflam, causing the muscles on either side of the spine to go into a spasm. This pain is most often described as making your back feel stiff.

Treatments: Treatment methods for thoracic facet joint strain are usually conservative. Resting and avoiding whatever is causing the strain will provide you with the best results. Many people recommend using a hot pack a few times throughout the day to reduce the pain.

I’m experiencing a variety of different pains in my upper body that feels unusual. I have episodes of chest pain, shortness of breath, jaw and back pain (between my shoulders), unusual fatigue, and lightheadedness. These symptoms usually occur after I’ve performed a physical activity (walking up stairs, exercise, etc.).

You most likely have: Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack

Causes: Symptoms of a heart attack come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Beyond the extreme chest pain, you may experience shortness of breath, back pain, jaw locking, fatigue, and a sense of uneasiness or knowing something is off. These rare symptoms are much more common for women and should be taken very seriously.

Treatments: If you or someone you know is experiencing the warning signs of a looming heart attack take them to the hospital immediately. Because these symptoms are not often recognized as heart attack they are commonly overlooked and in return may be fatal.

My Pain is Located Here:

learn more about upper right and left back pain

Upper Right or Left Back Pain

Similar to pain elsewhere in the back, upper right or left back pain has a wide range of severity. Most commonly it stems from poor posture. However, targeted one-sided back pain often has connections with more serious issues.

I’m experiencing pain in my upper right back. I have a fairly sedentary job and I’m right-handed.


I’m experiencing pain in my upper left back. I have a fairly sedentary job and I’m left-handed.

You most likely have: Poor Posture - Muscular Pain

Causes: Poor posture is extremely common, but also extremely overlooked. People complain about back issues but never correct the true cause of the problem- bad posture. When you are working a sedentary job and holding poor posture you are bound to experience back issues. For people who rely heavily on one side (because they are right or left handed), they will begin having targeted one-sided pain in that area.

Treatments: Start working towards correcting your posture immediately! Wearing a posture brace is a great way to change the muscle memory of your upper back. Along with this, perform posture correcting exercises and stretches to begin working pain-free.

I’m feeling severe pain under my right ribs and my right upper back. Sometimes I’m even nausea, vomiting, or have a loss of appetite.

You most likely have: A Type of Gastrointestinal Condition

Causes: Gastrointestinal disorders most often cause pain in the abdomen and generalized stomach area. However, referred pain (pain felt in a part of the body that is not it’s actual source) is common due to gallstones. The formation of gallstones can cause the gallbladder to inflam. Pain experienced as described above is often a referred pain to gastrointestinal conditions.

Treatments: If you have any concern with your gallbladder, it is best to consult your doctor immediately. There are a variety of different gastrointestinal treatment options your doctor may recommend.

I’m experiencing targeted pain in my left or right shoulder. This pain is causing my range of motion to be limited, making my shoulder feel extremely stiff. The stiffness has increased so much over time that I can’t move my shoulder like I once did.

You most likely have: Frozen Shoulder or Adhesive Capsulitis

Causes: There are a variety of different reasons you may be experiencing frozen shoulder. For example, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, or weakened immune system all make a person more likely to have joint inflammation. It’s most common in adults ages 40-60 and is often felt after a long period of inactivity from injury, illness, or post-surgery.

Treatments: Frozen shoulder can be left untreated, but it has the potential to last up to three years. The most commonly recommended forms of treatment are physical therapy (to work out the joint), medication, ice and heat treatments (like this shoulder wrap we have at BraceAbility), and potentially surgical options. If you believe you or someone you know may have frozen shoulder consult with a doctor.

I go through a variety of different pain levels in my right or left shoulders. For example, sometimes the pain is fairly mild and goes mostly unnoticed. Then, I’ll go through a period of time where the pain is extremely severe and it hurts to even lift my arms (sometimes the pain is so bad I can’t sleep).

You most likely have: Calcific Shoulder Tendonitis

Causes: The cause of calcific tendonitis is somewhat of a mystery. Some doctors claim wear and tear, other say it’s purely old age, it even may be because of a lack of oxygen in the tendons.

Treatments: Thankfully, calcific shoulder tendonitis has some conservative treatment options. Most often it’s recommended to rest your shoulders as much as possible. Any type of anti-inflammatory medication is highly recommended to cope with the pain you may be feeling. Beyond conservative methods, doctors have some surgical options in order to help with more severe cases.

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