Upper Back Pain

The spine is a very important part of your body-without it, you wouldn’t be able to run, walk, or do simple daily tasks. As Spine Specialists, we want you to learn more about how to take care of yourself, what to avoid, and what to look out for.

As review, let’s discuss what the spine is composed of, the different types of pain one exhibits, and the focus of today-upper back pain. First off, the spine is divided into three sections: the cervical spine, which is the neck, the thoracic spine, which is the upper back, and the lumbar spine, which is the lower back. All three sites exhibit some sort of pain. The types of pain exhibited are in the lower back, which is very common, pain in the neck, which is also very common, and pain in the upper back, which is not as common. All of these can be treated by the physicians at New York Spine Specialist.

upper back painThe treatment plan for chronic upper back pain patients, is typically based on the results of the diagnostic workup and what interventions have already been tried. However, considering the variation in treatments from one center to another, some treatments may be attempted again using a different delivery technique. This may include the way an injection is performed or the components of a physical therapy program. Chronic upper back pain patients are managed with medications, injections, chiropractic care, physical therapy, psychological support, education, chronic pain management program and/or surgery. Chronic upper back pain management programs generally require the patient to participate in care for several hours a day for a period of usually 4-6 weeks. Surgery, such as fusion or decompression, may be undertaken if there is a structural basis for the pain.

Upper back pain, being less commonly reported but is also a problem for the person experiencing it, is in fact rare because of the fact that the thoracic spine is located between the lumbar and the cervical spine thus making it the most stable part of the spine. However, being more stable does not mean it’s not susceptible to pain. The thoracic spine/upper back can begin to hurt because the person had poor posture, injured their neck, carried a large object, or developed a medical condition. 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.

Upper back pain, is pain felt in the area of the back from the lower part of the neck down to the waist. If the pain is also felt outside this area, it is referred to as upper back pain with radiation, e.g., forward radiation to the breastbone or the abdomen. Degenerative refers to deterioration of the spinal column as a result of aging.


Aging can cause changes in various parts of the thoracic vertebrae, such as the intervertebral discs, which can become narrower or bulge out, or the small joints (facet joints), which can develop osteoarthritis; however, other structures, such as ligaments and muscles, may also start to function less well as a result of aging. These changes in the thoracic spinal column as a result of aging are known as degenerative disease, or simply as ‘wear and tear’. It is important to note that in many cases degenerative disease is not necessarily accompanied by pain, rather by stiffness.

Signs and symptoms

The most common symptom caused by osteoarthritis (or arthritis) in the facet joints is pain on one side of the upper back, usually without radiation. The pain often becomes worse after you have been sitting in the same position for a long period of time, or when you turn the upper back and bend backwards.

If you have upper back pain, neurological examination is always carried out to exclude the possibility of a disc prolapse of the upper back. In addition to the neurological examination, the movements of the upper back are checked for limitation and pain. The upper back is also examined to feel which vertebrae are painful when pressure is put on them.

  • If necessary, an upper back X-ray will be carried out to exclude other possible causes.
  • If another cause is suspected, a chest X-ray or MRI scan will be performed.

Now that you’ve learned a bit about upper back pain, there’s an important question to ask, are you experiencing excruciating upper back pain? It is important to realize when it’s time to see a specialist and when to let the pain pass. As we continue our daily lives, we often disregard any pain until it becomes unbearable. When experiencing upper back pain, you are be sure to see your doctor when you have symptoms that include the following:

  • Tightness
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasm
  • Tenderness in the area
  • Headaches
  • Pain

At New York Spine Specialist, we treat patients for their upper back pain. If you are experiencing upper back pain and have any of the symptoms mentioned about, call us to make an appointment at 516-355-0111. We are here to help and offer the right treatment for your condition.