Pain in the upper back is known as thoracic back pain. It usually occurs between a person’s shoulder blades.
This article reviews triggers, treatments, and prevention tips for upper right back pain.
Thoracic back pain can occur anywhere in a person’s upper back between their neck and waist, but it usually develops between their shoulder blades.
Several factors can cause this type of back pain.
Muscle strain or injury
A person can injure the upper right back muscles when playing sports or lifting objects incorrectly.
Straining these muscles can lead to discomfort, which may present as acute pain or a dull ache.
Treatment usually involves home remedies such as pain relief medication and rest.
Fractures of the thoracic spine can result from high-energy trauma that may involve:
- a car or motorcycle collision
- a fall from a significant height
- a sports accident
Treatment for these cases will usually require emergency medical attention.
Fractures of the thoracic spine can also occur due to osteoporosis. This is a condition where bones become very weak and are more likely to break.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, these spinal injuries, known as vertebral compression fractures, affect almost 700,000 people in the United States each year.
This is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when cartilage in the body, which normally cushions the end of bones to form joints, breaks down or wears away.
In the spine, osteoarthritis affects the joints where the vertebrae join.
Movement of these damaged bones causes further damage and the formation of growths called bone spurs. These can press on nerves, causing upper back pain.
When a person feels stress, their muscles become tight, and over time this can cause discomfort.
Pain in the upper back can be due to issues elsewhere in the body. This is known as referred pain.
A person can develop infections of the spine for several reasons.
Spinal infections can trigger upper right back pain. Treatments usually involve medical interventions such as antibiotics or antifungals.
A herniated disk is often known as a slipped disk.
This condition often occurs in the lower back and can also develop in the neck. However, it can also trigger discomfort in the upper right back.
Herniated disks usually respond well to home treatment.
Upper right back pain when breathing
Sometimes, upper back pain can feel worse when a person breathes in deeply.
Breathing movements naturally affect the spine, as it connects to the rib cage. It is usually not a cause for concern.
However, in some cases, it may indicate a more serious issue. For example, it could suggest a problem with the lungs, such as a blood clot or pulmonary embolism.
If a person has concerns about their symptoms, they should seek medical advice.
In most cases, upper right back pain will resolve with home remedies, which include the below.
These are usually available without a prescription. They can be taken orally as a tablet or applied topically to the affected area as a cream, gel, patch, or spray.
Hot and cold
Using a hot water bottle or lying in a hot bath can help alleviate pain in the upper back.
Ice packs can also help ease back pain, but a person should not apply them directly to the skin. Instead, wrap ice packs in a towel or cloth before applying to the affected area.
Although rest can help with upper back discomfort, a person should limit being sedentary for too long.
The medical community generally agrees that staying active is crucial for people with back pain.
Stretches and exercises
Various stretches and exercises can help prevent or alleviate pain in the upper right back.
Medical professionals often recommend yoga to keep the back healthy and prevent discomfort. It could also stop pain from returning.
A person with upper right back pain can try the following exercises.
- Hold both arms above the head.
- Link hands with the palms facing upwards.
- Reach as high as possible.
- Kneeling on all fours, keep the back and neck straight without locking the elbows.
- Slowly move the bottom backward to meet the heels.
Sitting back extension
- Sit straight with the feet together.
- Put the palms of the hands on to the small of the back.
- Lean backward over the hands, feeling the lower back stretch out.
While a person cannot always prevent upper back pain, they can practice techniques to reduce the risk of developing it. They include:
- lifting objects safely and correctly
- taking regular breaks from sitting for long periods and from doing repetitive tasks
- making sure to get up and walk about regularly
- practicing good posture when sitting or standing
- when playing sport, learning and practicing good technique to avoid injury
- ceasing any activity that causes back pain
Muscle strain is often the cause of pain in the upper right back, but sometimes there might be a more serious reason.
A healthcare professional will ask a person about any recent injuries to the back, such as a sports-related incident or a car accident.
They will also ask about a person’s medical history and the pain itself to determine the cause. They may refer people for further tests.
A person should seek medical attention if they experience back pain due to injury or an accident.
They should also speak to a doctor if their upper right back pain does not go away after a week.
A person should seek immediate medical attention if the back pain accompanies other worrying symptoms, including muscle weakness, bladder issues, tingling, or numbness.
Upper right back pain can have a variety of triggers.
Most will resolve with home treatments, but occasionally, they may require medical intervention.
If upper right back pain persists, a person may want to ask their doctor to investigate further.