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

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8 Potential Rib Pain in the Upper Back Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.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
  2. 2.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.

    This type of arthritis can be managed with treatment, and permanent damage can be prevented. However, the underlying cause (psoriasis) is currently incurable.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain, lower back pain, joint pain, upper back pain, hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.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
  4. 4.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.

    Resolution of pain is dependent on type of treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, tender muscle knot, general numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome:
    tender muscle knot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Rib Pain in the Upper Back Checker

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

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  5. 5.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.

    Resolves with treatment (30% relapse)

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, arm weakness, arm numbness, pain in one shoulder blade
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.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
  7. 7.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
  8. 8.Urinary Tract Infection

    In women, the opening to the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) is very close to the anus, and bacteria from the anus can easily escape and travel up the urethra. These bacteria can infect the bladder, and cause what is known as a urinary tract infection (UTI).

    Symptoms most often go away within 24 to 48 hours after treatment begins.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), pelvis pain, sudden urgency to urinate, signs of urinary tract inflammation, urinary changes
    Symptoms that always occur with urinary tract infection:
    signs of urinary tract inflammation
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit

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

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • 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.Do you feel a painful, tight knot or band in your muscle anywhere on the body?

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

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Rib Pain in the Upper Back Symptom Checker Statistics

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

    • 5% Rib Pain
    • 4% Rib Pain on One Side
    • 3% Pain in the Upper Right Abdomen
  • People who have experienced rib pain in the upper back had symptoms persist for:

    • 34% Less Than a Day
    • 27% Less Than a Week
    • 21% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced rib pain in the upper back were most often matched with:

    • 14% Psoriatic Arthritis
    • 13% Vertebral Osteomyelitis
    • 12% Kidney Stone
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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