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Everything You Need to Know About Upper Right Back Pain and Its Possible Causes

Persistent or frequently occurring upper back pain can affect your work and life to a large extent, making it hard for you to move around easily. It can have a variety of triggers, and to address it successfully, you must learn about its possible causes.  Visit Redefine Healthcare, New Jersey’s premier pain management practice, to have your condition evaluated and learn everything about managing pain safely and effectively. Dr. Eric Freeman is an experienced and board-certified pain specialist and has been treating patients suffering from various back and spine issues successfully for years. He helps you figure out what is causing your backache and gets you back on track with comprehensive, cutting-edge care.  

Upper back pain is not as common as lower back pain, but the debilitating pain can disturb your routine. It can be mild and barely noticeable, or it could be intense, throbbing, and excruciating pain that makes it impossible for you to sit, walk and even sleep normally. It can build up slowly over time or come on without warning. Regardless of its causes, back pain can be debilitating and disturb your work and life to a great extent.

Upper back pain is known as thoracic pain, which occurs anywhere between the upper back, the neck, and the waist. The thoracic spine is located in the center of the upper and middle back. It begins at the base of the neck and continues down the rib cage on the right hand, just above the lower back. Pain in this area can range from mild to crippling, limiting your movement and affecting the normal functioning of the body.

Possible causes of upper right back pain and treatment options

Upper back pain can occur suddenly from an injury, and in some cases, for no apparent reason. It can also start gradually, such as after prolonged sitting with poor posture at work or driving for hours. For the most part, back pain can be managed with self-care, including rest, correction of posture, or ice and heat therapy. However, if the pain is severe and persists, medication, physical therapy or massage may be needed to find relief.

Lumbar Disc Herniation

Several factors can cause this type of back pain. They include:

Muscle Injury

At times, simple overuse or exhaustion of the back muscles can cause pain. Activities such as shoveling snow, sudden twisting, heavy lifting, and playing sports can also leave you with strained or injured upper right back muscles. A fall, car collision, or sudden impact of any kind can cause mild to severe injury in the upper back.

Injuring or straining these muscles can lead to discomfort, which may manifest itself as sudden spasms of sharp shooting pain when you move your right arm, or a dull ache.

Treatment for these types of injuries usually includes at-home remedies that involve rest, ice or heat therapy, and anti-inflammatory pain relievers for managing the symptoms.

Herniated Disc

Also known as a slipped disc, this condition occurs when a disc in the cervical or upper thoracic spine ruptures and exerts pressure on the spinal nerves. A disc can bulge or slip out from its position and press on the nerve resulting in pain and discomfort.

Lifting heavy objects or whiplash can cause this problem. Age-related spinal degeneration can also cause thoracic disc herniation. Commonly experienced symptoms of a herniated disc include pain, numbness, or pain in the right arm when you cough or sneeze.

Herniated discs usually respond well to home treatment. Anti-inflammatory medication, hot and cold pack application, rest, and gentle stretching are recommended treatments for easing mild to moderate pain. Severe cases of herniated disc mainly require steroid injections or surgical intervention.


When the protective cartilage that cushions the joints of the vertebrae wears away or breaks down, it can result in a grating sensation followed by swelling, stiffness, and bone spurs. It is the most common form of arthritis and affects the spine, where the vertebrae join. Movement of damaged bones can cause further damage as they press on the nerve and cause upper back pain.

This condition is brought on by general wear and tear, but factors such as old age, obesity, and repeated stress on the joint can increase your risk. It can cause upper right back pain or pain anywhere along the spine.

Treatment for osteoarthritis is meant to relieve the pain and discomfort resulting from this condition, but there is no cure. Home remedies include exercise, icing the painful areas, and medications to keep the pain down. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy, acupuncture, and hydrotherapy to deal with pain in a better way. In extreme cases, surgery may become necessary to improve joint pain and increase functionality in seriously affected joints.


It is a metabolic bone disease in which bones become very weak and are at a higher risk of breakage, leading to a spinal injury known as a vertebral compression fracture. Most people with this disease do not know until they experience a weakened hand grip, loss of height, increased pain when standing or walking, or a compression fracture.

Treatment for this disease includes taking a healthy diet and incorporating bone-strengthening medications and supplements as suggested by the specialist.

Spinal Fracture

Falling from a considerable height, auto accident, sports accident, or high-impact trauma can lead to thoracic or cervical fracture. Marked by pinching or pinching to the spinal cord or nerves, this type of injury should not be taken lightly, and immediate medical attention is essential.

Weakness and tingling that leads up to paralysis are possible symptoms of a spinal fracture.

Referred Pain

Pain in the upper right back can be due to other issues elsewhere in the body. It is known as referred pain. It is possible that your upper right back pain is not associated with the back but results from conditions involving the gallbladder, such as gallstones, which can contribute to your pain and discomfort. Lung issues can cause upper right back pain as the lungs are located near the upper back area. In some cases, pneumonia and lung cancer are possible causes of this type of lung-associated pain.

Treatment varies depending on the complexity of the pain and its type. Chances are your upper back pain is one of several symptoms, so it is best to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis of your condition and its treatment.


Stress is one of the most common causes of upper back pain. Anxiety, nervousness, and stress can result in mild to moderate pain in the back. When you are stressed, your body prepares for a fight or flight response, bracing itself for a major challenge, even if there is none. This causes the muscles to tighten, which eventually leads to pain.

Rapid heartbeat, headache, quick breathing, and a nervous stomach are some symptoms you may experience with back pain during stress.  Treatment options for stress-related upper back pain include stretching, exercise, and relaxation techniques and therapies. A healthy diet also plays a crucial role in easing these symptoms.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome (Mps)

This condition is a chronic pain disorder that affects fascia, the connective tissue that covers the muscles. It usually occurs within the intervertebral discs of the spine. The pain is caused by repetitive motion activities, overuse, or injuries that set trigger points. The pain is generated deep within the muscle or is referred pain, leading to discomfort in other parts of the body as well.

Myofascial pain syndrome can cause other symptoms, including tender spots in the muscle, consistent or worsening pain, and muscle spasms.

Light exercise and gentle stretching are the most effective at-home treatments. If needed, you should consult physical therapist to incorporate massage into your routine to get rid of the deep muscle pain. The doctor mainly recommends muscle relaxers and pain blockers to ease severe pain.

Preventing Upper Right Back Pain

Getting rid of upper right back pain and returning to a normal, healthy lifestyle is essential, and you can only do this by addressing the source of pain and preventing it from occurring. There is no way to always prevent back pain, but you can avoid further discomfort, deterioration of symptoms, and complications by safeguarding yourself against upper back pain.

Tips for preventing upper right back pain include:

  • A healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals
  • Regular exercise
  • Stretching routine
  • Avoiding lifting heavy objects
  • Maintaining proper posture
  • Taking regular breaks from repetitive tasks that put a strain on the back, such as sitting or shoveling

These preventive measures should be carefully followed to counteract and hopefully eliminate recurring pain for good.

When Upper Back Pain Is Serious

Most cases of upper back pain do not result from serious underlying issues. Only rare cases may be caused by a progressing infection, illness, injury, or spinal disability that is starting to affect a nerve root or even the spinal cord. If you suspect any of these, it is essential to seek immediate medical help to prevent the problem from worsening.

Symptoms that indicate a severe underlying issue include:

  • Radiating pain
  • Pins and needles tingling in the chest or abdomen
  • Fever or chills
  • Reduced coordination
  • A problem in walking or standing straight
  • Severe headaches

Call your doctor if you have been in an accident or fallen from a laden and the back pain does not go away after a week. The doctor will investigate the causes of pain to come up with the best solutions.

At Redefine Healthcare, the dedicated team of specialists helps to diagnose, treat and prevent your upper back pain using advanced technology and the highest quality pain rehabilitation treatments. Dr. Eric Freeman understands what you are going through and comes up with customized treatment plans that ensure you get back to living full-time, free of discomfort and pain. Due to a combination of the thoracic spine’s rigidity and proximity to vital organs like the heart and lungs, the specialist focuses on noninvasive options to eliminate your pain and prevent it from coming back.

Read more:
Sciatica Exercises: What’s Best and What to Avoid
4 Effective Exercises and Stretches to Relieve Shoulder Pain

11 Signs Your Upper Back Pain Is Serious Trouble It May Be Your Desk Job

Page Updated on Dec 15, 2022 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare


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Dr. Eric D. Freeman

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a “top pain management doctor in New Jersey” and one of “America’s Top Physicians” for advanced sports injury treatments.

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