What is upper and middle back pain?

Upper and Middle Back Pain

How is upper and middle back pain diagnosed?

Your doctor will first ask you about your past health, your symptoms, and your work and physical activities. Then your doctor will do a physical exam. Your doctor may also order an imaging test to find out if something such as a broken bone or a herniated disc is causing your pain. More tests may be done to check for other possible causes for your pain.

Imaging tests

The type of imaging test you have depends on what kind of problem your doctor suspects. You may have one or more tests, such as:

An X-ray.

An X-ray is done to look for injuries or diseases that affect the discs and joints of the spine.


An MRI is done to look for injuries and diseases that affect the discs and nerves of the spine, such as a herniated disc, a pinched nerve, or a tumor. It can also show if any part of the spinal canal has narrowed.

A CT scan.

A CT scan is done to look for a tumor, a fracture, a herniated disc, narrowing of the spinal canal, or an infection. It can also show if osteoporosis is the cause of a compression fracture.

A bone scan.

A bone scan is done to look for damage to the bones, a tumor, or infection. Or it can be done to find the cause of unexplained back pain.

An electromyogram and nerve conduction study.

An electromyogram and nerve conduction study is done to check how well the spinal cord, nerve roots, and nerves and muscles that control your arms and legs are working. It can help find out what is causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or legs.

How can you care for yourself when you have upper and middle back pain?

There are things you can do to feel better. For pain relief, try over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and NSAIDs (such as Advil, Aleve, or Motrin). Heat or ice may help too. Try exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles in your back, shoulders, and stomach. Consider physical therapy.

What causes upper and middle back pain?

Upper and middle back pain may be caused by:

  • Overuse, strain, or injury of the muscles, ligaments, or discs that support the spine.
  • Poor posture.
  • Pressure on the spinal nerves from certain problems, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
  • A fracture of one of the vertebrae.
  • An odd-shaped spine. Certain conditions, like scoliosis or kyphosis, can make your back hurt.
  • Osteoarthritis caused by the breakdown of cartilage that cushions the small facet joints in the spine.
  • Myofascial pain that affects the connective tissue of a muscle or group of muscles.

In rare cases, pain may be caused by other problems, such as gallbladder disease, cancer, or an infection.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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