upper back pain

Upper Back Pain

upper back pain

What is upper back pain?

The upper back starts at the base of your neck and goes to the bottom of your rib cage, also known as the thoracic spine. This area of the body is made of the vertebrae, the ribs, and the sternum forming a cage-like structure to protect the inner organs. Between the vertebrae, there are also vertebral discs acting like shock absorbers as you move. Muscles and ligaments in the upper back region also help stabilize the spine and hold it together. The bones and joints in the upper back region aren’t as flexible as the neck and lower back. For this reason, upper back pain isn’t as common as neck pain or lower back pain.

Symptoms of Upper Back Pain

Common upper back pain symptoms may include localized sharp or stabbing pain, general discomfort, reduced mobility or stiffness in the upper back, radiating pain, tingling sensation, numbness, and weakness in the arms, chest, stomach, and lower back.

upper back pain

Causes of Upper Back Pain

The majority of upper back pain cases are the result of accidents or collisions causing muscular irritation and joint dysfunction in the upper back area. However, poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, improper lifting technique, and overuse are all common causes of upper back pain as well.

Other health conditions such as thoracic herniated discs, compression fractures, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and severe spinal deformity can also potentially cause upper back pain.

Diagnosis and Treatment in Western Medicine

Mild to moderate upper back pain may get better by simply resting or using over-the-counter pain medications, ice packs, or heat pads. However, you should consult your doctor if:

  1. Your upper back pain does not improve after a week
  2. You are experiencing numbness and tingling sensations in your limbs
  3. The pain is becoming more severe or experiencing muscle spasms
  4. New symptoms such as fever, weight loss, or bowel or bladder problems start to appear

These are indications of a more serious condition.

Your healthcare provider will gather information on your medical history, activity level, and symptoms and conduct a physical examination to assess your range of movements and test your muscle strength and reflexes. Additional tests such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, electromyography (EMG), and blood tests may be carried out to confirm the diagnosis.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

upper back pain

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, the Bladder and Du channels run through the entire upper and lower back. The meridians along these channels correlate to the internal organs and can reflect their condition. Meridians are pathways that Qi (energy) and blood flow throughout the body. When pain, swelling, nodules, depressions, and temperature variations start to occur on different meridian points along the channels, this is an indication that certain organs are in a state of imbalance. For example, certain points along the bladder meridian in the upper back area correlate to the lung, pericardium, and heart. Practitioners can use these points to help diagnose and treat the patient.

Traditional Chinese Medicine has a variety of techniques that can help alleviate and treat upper back pain.

Tuina (Chinese massage): Can help invigorate qi and blood circulation in the tissues and joints and help dredge blockages in the meridians.

Guasha (smooth edged scraping tool) and cupping: Can help release toxins from injured muscle areas and bring in fresh oxygenated blood flow to help improve metabolism, and speed up repair and regeneration.

Acupuncture: By inserting very thin needles into specific sites of the body, acupuncture can effectively promote qi and blood circulation, trigger the body’s innate healing ability, and speed up the process of recovery. Research has shown that acupuncture can help alleviate acute and chronic pain symptoms by triggering the release of endorphins in the body.


Upper back pain is a common condition experienced by many people worldwide. Many simply assume that the cause of upper back pain is linked to the physiological structure e.g. muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Traditional Chinese Medicine introduces a new perspective to our understanding of upper back pain. The meridian theory in particular exposes us to a new dimension of the human body we have seldom explored in the past. At Centre of Balance, our practitioners have many years of experience treating upper back pain patients with great results. Why not give us a call, have a chat with our expert team, and see how we can help you?

Click to fill in the questionnaire now
See Citations