Read below about mid back pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your mid back pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Mid Back Pain Symptoms

The most common cause of mid-back pain is chronic muscle tension or irritation, often due to lifestyle factors such as sitting at a desk or poor posture. Acute muscle strain following a car accident or heavy lifting is another common cause of mid-back pain. Less common mid-back pain causes include spinal cord injury or irritation, joint inflammation, and various medical conditions. Mid-back pain symptoms due to muscle tension or strain can be treated at home with lifestyle modifications, rest, heat, stretching, or massage. However some more serious causes of mid-back pain require treatment by a medical professional. Anyone over the age of 50 with new severe mid-back pain should seek prompt medical evaluation.

Symptoms that can be associated with mid-back pain include:

Mid Back Pain Causes Overview

The most common cause of mid back pain in adults is chronic irritation to the muscles and soft tissue, typically related to prolonged sitting, poor posture, or overuse due to repetitive motion. Another common cause of mid back pain is acute muscle strain, common after minor car accidents or heavy lifting. Other less common causes of mid back pain include vertebral fracture, injury or irritation to the spinal cord, or inflammation in the joints of the spine. Some serious medical conditions can cause mid back pain, including injury to the aorta, and infection or tumor to the spinal cord.

Trauma or injury-related causes:

  • Acute Muscle Strain: An acute muscle strain in the mid back is a common cause of mid back pain symptoms. Common causes of muscle strain are car accidents, sports injuries, or heavy lifting. This pain is sharp, and you can usually pinpoint the exact moment of injury.
  • Fracture: A fracture to one of the vertebrae in the thoracic (middle) spin can cause mid back pain. Fractures to the spine typically only occurs with significant trauma, such as a fall from a significant height or a car accident at high speed. Elderly people with brittle bones (osteoporosis) are more likely to fracture the spine without being involved in significant trauma.
  • Spinal Cord Injury: The spinal cord consists of nerves traveling from the brain to the rest of the body. Injury to the spinal cord is very serious. Injury or irritation to the spinal cord in the mid-back can cause pain as well as numbness, weakness, or tingling in the trunk and legs. Severe injuries can also cause loss of control for urination and defecation. Typically, spinal cord injury occurs in the setting of trauma, often in combination with spinal fracture.

Chronic causes:

  • Chronic Tension: The most common cause of mid back pain is due to irritation or tension to the muscle and other soft tissue. Commonly, this arises from lack of strength, sitting for prolonged periods, poor posture, or wearing a backpack. This can also be a chronic overuse injury from repetitive motion. This pain is aching or dull and typically develops over time. Some patients may report their back pain is worse with stress or anxiety.
  • Joint Inflammation: There are several conditions that lead to inflammation in the joints in the spine that can lead to mid back pain. Arthritis, common in older adults, is the most common. There are several less common inherited conditions that can also cause joint inflammation and pain in younger people such as ankylosing spondylitis.
  • Spinal Cord Irritation: There are several conditions that can cause irritation of the spinal cord that may lead to mid-back pain symptoms. Irritation of the spinal cord is often accompanied by symptoms of nerve compression like numbness, weakness, or tingling in the trunk or legs.

Other causes:

  • Injury to Aorta: One of the most dangerous causes of mid back pain is a problem with the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The lining of the artery can tear, resulting in aortic dissection. Severe, sharp pain to the mid back is a symptom of aortic dissection. People with high blood pressure are at higher risk. Aortic dissection can be a life-threatening condition needing immediate evaluation.
  • Spinal Cord Infection: The spine can become infected with bacteria, which can cause localized pain in any part of the back. The infection typically spreads from another site in the body via the blood. These infections typically develop over a long period of time.
  • Cancer: Various types of cancer can spread to the spine, causing localized mid-back pain. New mid back pain in an older patient with symptoms like fatigue, weight loss, or fevers is concerning for a possible malignancy.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Mid Back Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced mid back pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Low Back Strain

    A strain, commonly called a "pulled muscle," is when a muscle becomes overstretched and tears. A low back strain happens when one of the muscles in the lower back is stressed due to an unusual movement (such as lifting a heavy object, or lifting while twisting).

    This is usually a self-limiting problem, and should subside on its own within weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, back pain that gets worse when sitting, back pain that gets worse when straightening it, lower left back pain, lower right back pain
    Symptoms that always occur with low back strain:
    lower back pain
    Symptoms that never occur with low back strain:
    involuntary defecation, first time leaking urine, back numbness, toe numbness, foot numbness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis)

    Pyelonephritis is the medical term for a kidney infection. This can arise as a result of a bladder infection that travels upstream. A kidney infection is usually bacterial in nature, and can cause pain on the side of the stomach, high fever, nausea, and blood in the urine.

    Course of antibiotics for 7-14 days, but symptoms should begin to improve after 48 hours.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, pelvis pain, back pain, vomiting
    Symptoms that never occur with kidney infection (pyelonephritis):
    mid back pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  3. 3.Spine Metastases

    Bone metastases occur when tumor cells migrate from the original tumor site and cause a secondary tumor elsewhere in the body. The spine is a common location for metastases to appear and symptoms generally include pain and tingling.

    Outcome is dependent on severity of disease and treatment given.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    back pain, lower back pain, fatigue, mid back pain, urinary changes
    Symptoms that always occur with spine metastases:
    back pain
    Symptoms that never occur with spine metastases:
    back pain from overuse, lower back pain from an injury, mid back pain from an injury, mid back pain from overuse
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Osteoporotic Spinal Fracture

    Osteoporosis is a condition in which the density and quality of bone are reduced. Cracks can appear in the boney structures of the back (vertebrae) which can lead to back pain, back deformities and loss of height.

    Weeks to months

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    mid back pain, spontaneous mid back pain, unintentional weight loss, back pain affecting the spine, back deformity
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  5. 5.Vertebral Osteomyelitis

    Infection of the spinal bones (Vertebral Osteomyelitis) is caused by the spread of bacteria through the blood from another body part that lands in the spine. It's typically caused by bugs named Staph. Aureus (40-50% of the time), streptococci (12%), e.coli (9%), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (6%).

    6 weeks of antibiotics typically clears things up

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    upper back pain, spontaneous neck or back pain, fever, foot numbness, upper leg numbness
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

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  6. 6.Traumatic Vertebral Fracture

    Vertebral fracture is a fracture or dislocation of a vertebra that can cause bone fragments to pinch and damage the spinal nerves or spinal cord. Most spinal fractures occur from car accidents, falls, gunshot, or sports.

    Variable depending on severity (months)

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    back pain, constant back pain, severe back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain affecting the spine
    Symptoms that always occur with traumatic vertebral fracture:
    back pain
    Symptoms that never occur with traumatic vertebral fracture:
    mild back pain
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  7. 7.Herniated (Slipped) Disk in the Upper Back

    The backbone, or spine, is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae. In between the bones are soft disks filled with a jelly-like substance. These disks cushion the vertebrae and keep them in place. Although people talk about a slipped disk, nothing actually slips out of place. The outer shell of the disk ruptures, and the jelly-like substance bulges out. It may be pressing on a nerve, which is what causes the pain.A slipped disk is more likely to happen due to strain on the back, such as during heavy lifting, and older individuals are at higher risk.

    The pain associated with a slipped disk usually goes away within six weeks. If the pain lasts longer, consult a doctor. They may send you to see a back specialist for an MRI of your spine, and surgery may be considered.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    upper back pain, neck pain, arm weakness, back pain that gets worse when sitting, upper spine pain
    Symptoms that always occur with herniated (slipped) disk in the upper back:
    upper back pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Mid - Back Bruise

    A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the back are common, given how exposed this area of the body is.

    Bruises begin to heal within one week.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    back pain, constant back pain, mid back pain from an injury, swollen back, bruised back
    Symptoms that always occur with mid-back bruise:
    mid back pain from an injury, constant back pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  9. 9.Kidney Stone

    A kidney stone is a solid piece of material that forms in the kidney from substances in the urine. Most kidney stones pass out of the body without help from a doctor. But sometimes a stone will not go away. It may get stuck in the urinary tract, block the flow of urine and cause great pain.

    The prognosis for a kidney stone is good, as it is not a chronic condition. Once the stone has passed, the pain will go away. However, if you have had a kidney stone, you have about a 1 in 2 chance of getting another one in five to seven years. This can be prevented by: 1. Drinking more than 2 liters (2.11 quarts) of water a day. 2. Eating a healthy diet with foods rich in calcium such as milk and other dairy products, peas and beans, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and bony fish like sardines and salmon. 3. Avoiding use of lots of salt in cooking. 4. Eating more vegetables, as they help make urine less acidic.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal or flank pain, nausea, abdominal pain that comes and goes, diarrhea, pelvis pain
    Symptoms that always occur with kidney stone:
    abdominal or flank pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  10. 10.Acute Pancreatitis

    Acute pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, which creates and releases insulin and glucagon to keep the sugar levels in your blood stable. It also creates the enzymes that digest your food in the small intestine. When these enzymes accidentally get activated in the pancreas, they digest the pancreas itself, causing pain and inflammation.

    Acute pancreatitis typically goes away after a few days with treatment. Untreated, it can be deadly

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, being severely ill, severe abdominal pain, fever
    Symptoms that always occur with acute pancreatitis:
    constant abdominal pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Mid Back Pain Treatments and Relief

Mild mid-back pain due to chronic irritation or strain can often be treated at home with rest, lifestyle modification, heat or ice, and over the counter pain medication. However, there are some more serious causes of mid back pain symptoms that require evaluation and treatment by a physician.

Seek emergency treatment if:

  • You experience new, sharp chest pain that moves to the mid or upper back, especially if accompanied by lightheadedness or nausea : This may be a sign of injury to the aorta, which is a medical emergency.
  • You experience sudden loss of control of your bowels or bladder with or without back pain : This may be a sign of serious injury to the spinal cord.
  • You experience sudden numbness, weakness, or tingling in the legs with or without back pain : This may be a sign of serious injury to the spinal cord.

Home mid-back pain treatments include:

  • Rest : If your mid-back pain is due to a muscle strain from an injury, several days of rest may help relieve mid-back pain symptoms. Avoid activities that exacerbate the pain.
  • Lifestyle modification : If your mid-back pain is related to poor posture, sitting for prolonged periods of time, or overuse due to repetitive motion, modifying your lifestyle may help. Avoid the repetitive motion, strengthen your core to improve posture, or try a standing desk!
  • Heat or Ice: If your mid back pain is due to muscle strain or irritation, heating pads or ice packs may help. Use whichever one feels best.
  • Massage or Acupuncture: If your mid-back pain is due to muscle strain or irritation, massage or acupuncture may help with pain relief. This may be particularly helpful if your back pain seems to be related to stress or anxiety.
  • Over the counter pain medication: If your mid-back pain is due to muscle strain or irritation, over the counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or other NSAIDs or acetaminophen may help with symptom relief.
  • Stretching or Strengthening: If your mid-back pain is related to muscle tension or strain, strengthening and strengthening may help relieve symptoms. Try a yoga class or incorporate a few stretches into your morning routine.

Medical professional mid-back pain treatments include:

  • Physical Therapy : If a doctor determines your mid-back pain is due to muscle strain or chronic irritation in the soft tissue, they may recommend physical therapy. Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles of the back and core, improve posture, and relieve mid-back pain.
  • Medications : If a doctor suspects your back pain is due to joint inflammation, they may prescribe medication to help with inflammation and pain. If a doctor suspects your back pain is due to infection, they may prescribe antibiotics. A doctor may also recommend prescription pain medication (opioid or non-opioid) to help manage mid-back pain symptoms.
  • Imaging : If a doctor is concerned for a fracture, a spinal infection, or a spinal tumor they may order a CT scan or an MRI to diagnose the cause of your back pain.
  • Surgery : In rare cases of mid-back pain, including serious injury to the spinal cord or injury to the aorta, surgery may be recommended as treatment. Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of surgery in these cases.

FAQs About Mid Back Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about mid back pain.

Why do I have sudden mid back pain?

Upper and middle back pain are most commonly caused by overuse and muscle strain, muscle spasm or muscle injury. Often these involve a repetitive activity like lifting an object from the ground or stooping to pick up an item. Poor posture can also contribute to pain in the middle back. More serious causes include pressure on a spinal nerve which can occur following a herniated disk. Fractures of a spinal vertebrae can happen following trauma or a disease of the bone or spine and can also lead to pain. Osteoarthritis involving the breakdown of cartilage in the back and myofascial pain involving inflammation of the connective tissue of the muscle can also cause back pain. Treatment depends on the cause, and longstanding back pain should be examined by a physician.

How should I sleep with middle back pain?

This depends on the cause of back pain. Poor posture may necessitate sleeping in a non-stooped position that takes stress off of the muscles of the spine. The principle is the same for muscle overuse or muscle strain, however, it is common to move while sleeping, so maintaining a comfortable position may be challenging and may not last the entire night. If you find that you have a fracture you should bear as little pressure or force as possible, and this depends on the area fractured and the treatment of the fracture. Myofascial pain can at times be alleviated with anti-inflammatory medications.

Can you have gas pain in your back?

Yes, pain that distends or presses against the lining of the GI tract can cause back pain. To be clear, this does not mean that gas is causing injury to your back, it means that a nerve that supplies both the walls of the abdomen and the spine may be affected by gas, and your brain may interpret signals from that nerve as a sign of back pain even if no damage is present.

Can poor posture cause middle back pain?

Yes, poor posture, including forward hunching or forward stooping, can cause middle back pain. Additionally, lifting of the shoulders for a long period of time (e.g. if a desk is too short) can also cause pain in the middle back. Middle back pain over a long period of time is frequently muscular and can be aggravated by activities that cause further strain of the muscles of the mid-back, including muscles that allow stooping or bending forward. Correct ergonomics (our interactions with things such as chairs and desks) is important for those who sit for many hours at work or home, especially when using a computer).

Why does my back hurt suddenly?

Sudden back pain is common a sign of back muscle strain, spasm or injury. If you have engaged in any activity that strains the back including arm lifting, leaning forward or hunching at a desk, or lifting objects from the ground recently, you may have this type of injury. If you have osteoporisis (weak bones, most common in elderly women) you may have a spinal fracture from something a simple as stepping down from a curb.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Mid Back Pain

  • Q.Did you just suffer from a high impact injury (e.g., a fall, collision, accident or sports trauma)?
  • Q.Have you noticed a change in your height (since your tallest recorded height)?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our mid back pain symptom checker to find out more.

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Mid Back Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced mid back pain have also experienced:

    • 6% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 5% Lower Back Pain
    • 4% Nausea
  • People who have experienced mid back pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 30% Less Than a Day
    • 27% Less Than a Week
    • 24% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced mid back pain were most often matched with:

    • 54% Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis)
    • 36% Spine Metastases
    • 9% Low Back Strain
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

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