What is Upper Back Pain?

Upper back pain, which occurs in the region stretching from the base of your neck to the bottom of your rib cage, can vary in its presentation and underlying causes. 

This area, known as the thoracic spine, consists of 12 vertebrae that are each connected to a pair of ribs, forming a sturdy rib cage with the sternum at its centre. This structure not only supports the upper body but also plays a crucial role in protecting vital organs such as the heart and lungs. 

Your thoracic spine is characterised by its stability, which is why upper back pain is less common compared to neck or lower back pain. The bones in this area do not flex as much as those in the cervical or lumbar regions, contributing to its robustness. 

However, upper back pain can still arise from various issues including injuries or disorders affecting the bones, intervertebral discs, muscles, and ligaments in this area. 

These components work collectively to maintain the integrity of the spine: Discs, for example, act as cushions absorbing shock during movement, while muscles and ligaments provide essential support and mobility. 

If your upper back pain is sharp rather than dull, it could be a sign of a torn muscle or ligament or a problem with an internal organ in the back or side. 

If the pain radiates to the buttocks or legs, it may indicate nerve compression or damage in the spinal column. Such symptoms necessitate careful evaluation to determine the exact cause and appropriate treatment. 

If the pain is over a specific point over your upper back, it is due to inflammation of the muscle or joint of the upper back. 

Understanding the complexity and function of the thoracic spine can help in identifying the specifics of your upper back pain, whether it stems from mechanical issues, traumatic injury, or deeper internal problems. It is crucial to consider the broad spectrum of potential causes to effectively address and manage this type of pain.

What does upper back pain feel like?

Upper back pain means you have either poor posture, muscle overuse, or injury. Usually, upper back pain can be treated using home remedies, such as rest and gentle exercises, or possibly seeing a physical therapist. 

But if the pain persists for a long time, please see immediate medical attention. People describe the feeling of upper back pain in many different ways. 

Some people describe upper back pain as feeling like: 

  • A burning or sharp pain.
  • An achy, throbbing pain.
  • Muscle tightness or stiffness.
  • A radiating pain along a nerve.
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness. 

These sensations can vary depending on the underlying cause, but they generally indicate that your upper back is experiencing discomfort that should not be ignored.

When you have one or more of the above upper back pain red flags, it’s advisable to visit your doctor. The above upper back pain red flags mean that your upper back pain is related to the bones, nerves, or an injury in the discs of your thoracic spine.

Do not be afraid. Most upper back pain symptoms can be addressed with just physical therapy, posture correction and simple medication. The upper back pain symptoms are a call from your body for your attention. Simple exercises and posture awareness alone go a long way in addressing your pain and strengthening your spine!

What causes Upper Back Pain?

The upper back is the region below the cervical spine (neck) and above the low back (lumbar spine). The upper back is called the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is made up of 12 bones (vertebra) and is designed for stability to anchor the rib cage and protect vital internal organs within the chest.

Upper back pain is usually caused by soft tissue injuries or muscle tension. Though the most common reason for upper back pain is simple musculoskeletal strain, upper back pain can also be caused by spinal cord injury, though less common.

Some of the most common underlying causes of upper back pain are:

  • Poor Posture
  • Texting by bending your neck (Text Neck)
  • Improper lifting of weights
  • Overuse
  • Myofascial pain (back muscles)
  • Accident, collision or other neck injuries
  • Whiplash
  • Repetitive movements
  • Contact sports
  • Carrying too heavy a load
  • Wearing an overloaded backpack

All the above causes of upper back pain are basically musculoskeletal strains. In some rare cases, Upper Back Pain can also be caused by serious conditions such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Conditions such as Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Herniated or slipped disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Fracture of a vertebrae
  • Cancers that affect the spine like the lung cancer

Do not be afraid! Most of these serious conditions affect senior citizens above 60 years of age.

The upper back pain caused by spinal injury can also be treated with physical therapy and spinal injections, or in some rare cases, minimally invasive spine surgery may be needed. Whatever the case, complete pain relief from your upper back pain is 100% possible! All you have to do is visit your spine doctor when your upper back pain persists for more than a few days, and make some small changes in your lifestyle.

London back pain specialist Dr Mangattil Rajesh is all about healing and long-term pain relief. He genuinely cares about spinal health as a way forward towards a healthy & stress-free life.

If you are suffering from upper back pain, book an offline/online consultation today in London with Mr Rajesh at 07956 318 383! or schedule a free chat.

Diagnosis for Upper Back Pain

It is important to find the exact cause of your upper back pain so that it can be effectively treated. The problem is that the symptoms for sciatica, slipped discs and muscle injury or inflammation are pretty much similar. Only an experienced Consultant Spine Surgeon would know how to read the minute details and diagnose your condition precisely.

Mr Rajesh will use one or more of the following diagnostic procedures to pinpoint the cause of your upper back pain caused by a possible pinched nerve in your upper back.

Physical Examination:

Specialist physical assessment of your spinal joints, ligaments & muscles helps Mr Rajesh understand where the pain is. He will be able to assess the cause and extent of your upper back pain with these examinations.

You may need other tests:

MRI Scans

Consultant Spine Surgeon Mr Rajesh will need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to look at your upper back muscles, soft tissues, ligaments, black disc, disc prolapse and spinal stenosis. This information along with your story will help Mr Rajesh decide and recommend the best plan of action.

MRI scan is the best investigation to get information on the soft tissues.


Standing X-rays from your front and the side will give Mr Rajesh a good assessment of your spinal alignment, if there are some spinal curvature, scoliosis or fractures.

CT Scans

Computerised Tomography (CT) is not needed routinely as it brings in the risk of significant radiation. But it is very useful to look at the extent of damage to your bones in your spine. It therefore gives valuable information of the structure and shape of the spine.

Blood Tests

Blood tests are not routinely needed in the investigation of upper back pain. These are useful if the you have fever, infection or suspicion of inflammation.

Bone Density Test

Also known as a DXA (or DEXA) test, is used to determine whether you have osteoporosis or if you are at risk of getting it.

Nerve Conduction Studies

Electromyography (EMG) is used to reveal whether you have a compressed nerve, which may be caused by a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

Diagnosing the underlying cause of your upper back pain at the right time is essential to start your ideal treatment plan!

What else can I do at home to prevent or reduce upper back pain?

To alleviate or prevent upper back pain at home, consider these simple physical activities that focus on stretching and strengthening the muscles in your upper back. 

Maintaining an upright posture while standing or sitting; avoid drooping your shoulders or curving your spine. 

Stand and Sit tall. No Slumping or slouching.

Exercises can stretch and strengthen upper back muscles. 

Managing stress through techniques such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, or meditation.

These practices can not only help reduce current discomfort but also prevent future pain in the upper back area.

Treatment for Upper Back Pain

Experienced back pain specialist in London, Mr Mangattil Rajesh, takes the time to understand the underlying causes for your upper back pain. Mr Rajesh then creates a tailor-made multi-disciplinary upper back pain treatment plan specifically for you.

This upper back pain treatment plan involves one or more of the following:


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

  • Paracetamol
  • Codine
  • Naproxen

Muscle relaxants like diazepam are also prescribed in some cases to treat muscle spasms and ease nerve-damage pain.

Physiotherapy & Exercises:

Mr. Rajesh believes in treating most of the back pain issues through non-surgical ways such as lifestyle correction, exercises, and physiotherapy as part of his comprehensive upper back pain treatment in London.

Spine injections:

Mr Rajesh prescribes epidural, facet joint, nerve root steroid joint injections for some cases to give immediate relief from acute upper back pain.

Spine Injections relieve pain instantly for cases where extreme pain and discomfort are debilitating. This also helps the patient heal quickly from the condition causing their upper back pain. This is a very safe and minimally invasive procedure that gives excellent pain relief for months. It also provides an opportunity for people with upper back pain to break the cycle of pain and heal completely.

Spine specialist Mr Rajesh takes a multi-disciplinary approach to upper back pain treatment in London. He believes in treating and healing his upper back pain patients without surgery in most cases.

In some instances, if there is a herniated disc that is causing pressure on your nerves after spine steroid injections,  Mr Rajesh might suggest a Minimally Invasive Surgery.

Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery:

Surgery is rarely indicated for upper back pain. Mr Rajesh will consider surgery only if your back pain does not settle with an adequate trial of medications, physiotherapy and spine injections. He would always suggest minimally invasive surgery for less tissue dissection & a faster recovery. Mr Mangattil Rajesh is a skilful practitioner of minimally invasive spine surgery.

Minimally invasive spine surgery helps to release pressure on the nerves caused by disc prolapse or or your nerves trapped in the spinal canal.

Some of the most common minimally invasive surgical procedures for upper back pain are:

Thoracic Microdiscectomy: It is the gold standard procedure for minimally invasive removal of herniated discs.

Thoracic Spine Decompression: This procedure is used for spinal stenosis where a piece of bone is removed from the spinal canal to release the pressure.

One of London’s best-reviewed spine surgeons, Mr Rajesh has treated thousands of patients with severe upper back pain successfully over the years. He forms a comprehensive upper back pain treatment plan personalised for your requirements. This is a combination of medication, exercises, spine injection and surgery wherever required.

Get in touch with him today. Mr Rajesh and his team would be happy to help you with your upper back pain treatment in London!

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Mr Rajesh was excellent and I count myself very fortunate that he is my consultant surgeon. I could not have asked for a more courteous and professional experience. I could not fault anything. Mr Rajesh was very professional he explained everything in detail on all my visits. From initial consultation to post op Mr Rajesh took care of everything.

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Thank you so much to Mr Rajesh for helping my father when he was an inpatient at the height of the pandemic. Mr Rajesh is an amazing surgeon and was very informative, thorough and professional. Luckily my father was not infected with Covid 19 despite being an inpatient for 6 weeks.

Kemal Ykm

Dr Mangattil Rajesh is my hero he has helped me a great deal with my fractured back after a car accident. My recovery has improved significantly ever since he took on my case with regular consultations and real talk. He knows his stuff so I trust him with every decision we make together Lore Epsom.

Upper Back Pain Stretches

Mild stretches will help loosen your tense upper back muscles. This helps release some pressure on the spine & the nerves, and also strengthens other surrounding muscles to help you move.

It is advisable to take each step gently as any stretches that cause excessive strain can damage your muscles.

Spine surgeon and Consultant Mr Rajesh recommends these 4 quick stretches as the best exercises for relief  from upper back pain:

1) Neck rolls:

Gently roll your head back and around to your right shoulder a few times. Keep your breathing calm and smooth, and repeat 5 to 10 times in each direction.

2) Shoulder shrugs:

With your feet flat on the ground, arms hanging down at your sides and with your back straight, bring your shoulders straight up as high as possible, then squeeze them tight for about 2 seconds. Inhale and hold your breath. Gently breathe out and very slowly let your arms drop back down. Do about 8 to 10 shrugs per set.

3) Shoulder rolls:

This is similar to a shoulder shrug. But after pulling your shoulders up to your ears, move them back and down in a circle. Repeat the same movement in the forward direction as well. Do it slowly and do 5 shoulder rolls both towards the back and front.

4) Butterfly wings:

Sit up straight and touch your fingertips to your shoulders with your elbows pointed out to the side. Exhale and slowly pull your elbows together in front of you until they touch. Breathe in and allow your arms to slowly pull back to their original position.

Remember to sit upright and relax your shoulders when doing all the above upper back pain stretches. You’ll feel instant relief in your upper back pain. These upper back pain-relief exercises recommended by Mr Rajesh helps relieve the tension in your back and leg muscles.

As part of your personalised comprehensive upper back pain treatment plan, London back pain specialist Mr Mangattil Rajesh will guide you with more specialised physiotherapy and exercises to get complete relief from upper back pain.

Call Spine Specialist Mr Rajesh on 7956 318 383

Email for appointments on rajesh@spinesurgeon.london today.

Upper Back Pain after COVID

Upper body aches and pain are also among the most frequently reported symptoms of COVID-19. The upper back is one of the most common places people with COVID-19 report feeling pain. General body aches, muscle pain, or joint pain are common symptoms of COVID-19 and other viral infections. It’s thought that upper back pain too is part of the ‘flu-like’ symptom that is commonly seen in COVID.

Upper back pain often appears in the early stages of the disease, but it can also be a long-haul symptom that persists for weeks or months after infection. Upper back pain can have many possible causes. It’s impossible to know if your upper back pain was caused by COVID-19 unless you also had a positive COVID-19 diagnostic test. COVID-19 infection can stimulate the release of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines by the viral attack on your immune system.

Upper back pain caused by COVID-19 is often described as a deep pain instead of a sharp or stabbing pain that may accompany a sudden muscular injury. Pain caused by viral infections is also less likely to be eased by changing your posture than the pain caused by muscular injuries.

Some people with COVID-19 develop symptoms that last weeks or months after the original infection. These persistent complications are called long-haul symptoms. Joint & back pain is one of the most common long haul symptoms of COVID-19.

Patients with any concern about their upper back pain should not hesitate to seek evaluation. It is always better to be reassured & start with pain relief measures that will stop the development of any long term pain/damage.

Have you started feeling persistent pain in upper lower back after recovering from COVID-19?

Call Spine Specialist Mr Rajesh’s secretary on 0203 1500 259

Email her on secretary@spinesurgeon.london today.

Frequently Asked Questions about Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain means you have either poor posture, muscle overuse, or injury. Usually, upper back pain can be treated using home remedies, such as rest and gentle exercises, or possibly seeing a physical therapist. But if the pain persists for a long time, please see immediate medical attention.

If your upper back pain is sharp, rather than dull. It could be a sign of a torn muscle or ligament or a problem with an internal organ in the back or side.


If your upper back pain is radiating to the buttocks or legs, it may be a sign of nerve compression or damage in your spinal column.

You can relieve upper back pain by:

1) Applying ice packs to reduce pain and swelling.

2) Applying heat packs to improve mobility and ease stiffness.

3) Over-the-counter non-steroidal pain medication such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen.

4) Simple stretches and exercises.

Women usually experience upper back pain due to misalignment of the spine. Muscle overuse or strain, usually due to repetitive motions or even lifting items or children incorrectly can cause a spine injury.

Poor posture, slouching or pushing the head forward while sitting or standing also causes misalignment of the spine. Injury to discs, muscles and/or ligaments are also prevalent among women.

To prevent upper back pain at home, consider incorporating

  1. Physical activities that focus on stretching and strengthening the muscles in your upper back.
  2. Maintaining an upright posture while standing or sitting is also crucial; avoid drooping your shoulders or curving your spine.
  3. Additionally, managing stress through techniques such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, or meditation can be beneficial.

These practices can not only help reduce current discomfort but also prevent future pain in the upper back area.

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