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Learn about your muscle pain in the upper back, including causes and common questions. Or get a personalized analysis of your muscle pain in the upper back 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.

Muscle Pain in the Upper Back Checker

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Your Muscle Pain in the Upper Back May Also be Known as:
Cramps in upper back
Muscle pain in upper back
Upper back muscles hurt

Top 9 Muscle Pain in the Upper Back Causes

  1. 1.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%).

    You should go to the ER by car, where a doctor will perform blood tests to look for inflammation and signs of infection. Imaging with x-rays is a typical first step, but MRIs are the gold standard. If things are still not clear, a biopsy might be needed to look at what is going on in the spine. Treatment involves antibiotics either by mouth or by blood. Surgery is rarely needed unless there is an implant in the back.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    upper back pain, fever, chills, spontaneous neck or back pain, spontaneous mid back pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  2. 2.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.

    For treatment of a slipped disk, you should consult with your primary care physician (PCP). Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination to localize the slipped disk and rule out dangerous complications. Most people do not require surgery for a slipped disk. Treatment involves pain relief with an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen (Advil) and/or acetaminophen (Tylenol), using heat treatments, and keeping active. It is best to avoid sitting still for long periods. Walking or swimming may help as well.

    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
  3. 3.Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

    Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is the compression of the nerves and/or blood vessels that run through the upper chest. It can occur as a result of trauma, surgery, growths in the body, or just randomly.

    You should seek medical care soon to determine whether the compression is of the nerve or the blood vessels. You may need imaging using x-rays, CTs of the blood streams, or MRIs. Treatment depends on the extent of the injury, but usually includes physical therapy. Surgical treatment may be required if a blood vessel is compressed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, arm weakness, pain in one shoulder blade, arm numbness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.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.

    Kidney stones can be painful, so go to the nearest urgent care center or emergency room. The course of treatment depends on the size of the stone. Small stones can pass out of the body without any treatment, which can take two days to four weeks. You can help this process by drinking plenty of water to increase the flow of urine. Strong painkillers can also help with the pain. If a stone is stuck in a tube (ureter), your doctor might recommend a medication called an alpha-blocker, which can help make the tube bigger and thus help the stone to pass.Larger stones might not pass on their own, and thus surgery or shock wave therapy might be used. Shock wave therapy uses shock waves to break up stones into small pieces that can pass out of the body.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, abdominal pain that comes and goes, diarrhea, pelvis pain, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with kidney stone:
    hidden: abdomen or flank pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Muscle Pain in the Upper Back Checker

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  5. 5.Pinched Nerve in the Neck

    With age, disks separating the cervical vertebrae (which are the bones of your spine in your neck) lose height as well as lose water content, becoming stiffer. The vertebrae move closer together, and nerves that exit between these bones may be pinched, causing pain to travel down the nerve as it passes through the arm. The pain is usually sharp, and some people report a "pins and needles" sensation or even complete numbness.

    You should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate your care with a muscle and bone specialist (orthopedic surgeon). Cervical radiculopathy is treated with pain medication, soft neck collars, and physical therapy.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain that radiates down arm, pain in the back of the neck, severe shoulder pain
    Symptoms that always occur with pinched nerve in the neck:
    pain that radiates down arm
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Myofascial Pain Syndrome

    Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic musculoskeletal syndrome caused by trigger points within muscle. Pressure on these points causes pain in the area around the point as well as in other body parts, a phenomenon known as referred pain.

    You should visit your primary care physician. This complex chronic condition is often treated with injections and physical therapy.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, shoulder blade pain, difficulty moving the shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome:
    tender muscle knot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Psoriatic Arthritis

    Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. Some people who have psoriasis also get a form of arthritis (inflammation and swelling of joints) called psoriatic arthritis.

    You should visit your primary care physician to manage this disease as there are many treatment options. A treatment plan will often consist of therapy (physical, occupational, massage), patient education, exercise and rest, devices to protect joints, medicine and/or surgery.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    joint pain, lower back pain, shoulder pain, upper back pain, joint stiffness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Heart Attack in a Woman

    Most heart attacks happen when a clot in the coronary artery blocks the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. Often this leads to an irregular heartbeat - called an arrhythmia - that causes a severe decrease in the pumping function of the heart.

    You should call 911.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), pain in one arm, being severely ill, shortness of breath
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  9. 9.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is treated symptomatically. Medication, therapy, and stress reduction may reduce symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, anxiety, trouble sleeping, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    hidden: arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Muscle Pain in the Upper Back

  • Q.How long has your upper back been hurting?
  • Q.Turn your head toward the side of your body that is hurting. Lift your head up as someone else pushes down on your head. Does this cause greater pain in your upper body? (This is known as Spurling's test.)
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.About your [shoulder], do you notice any of the following?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our muscle pain in the upper back symptom checker.

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Muscle Pain in the Upper Back Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced muscle pain in the upper back have also experienced:

    • 6% Rib Pain on One Side
    • 5% Rib Pain
    • 4% Pain in One Shoulder
  • People who have experienced muscle pain in the upper back had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Less Than a Day
    • 27% Less Than a Week
    • 19% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced muscle pain in the upper back were most often matched with:

    • 14% Herniated (Slipped) Disk in the Upper Back
    • 11% Vertebral Osteomyelitis
    • 9% Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Muscle Pain in the Upper Back Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having muscle pain in the upper back.

Take a quiz