Sharp Upper Back Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your sharp upper back pain symptoms, including 8 causes and common questions.

Sharp Upper Back Pain Symptom Checker

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Contents

  1. 8 Possible Sharp Upper Back Pain Causes
  2. Real-Life Stories
  3. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  4. Statistics
  5. Related Articles

8 Possible Sharp Upper Back Pain Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced sharp upper back pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

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.

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

Vertebral osteomyelitis

Vertebral osteomyelitis, or spinal osteomyelitis, is an infection in the bones of the spine. It usually affects the lumbar, or lower, back, and may be either acute or chronic.

The infection is caused by bacteria, most commonly Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and by some types of fungi. These agents can travel through the bloodstream from an infected wound elsewhere in the body and reach the bones of the spine.

Most susceptible are those with weakened immune systems; poor circulation; recent injury; or undergoing hemodialysis. Osteomyelitis of the spine is the most common form of osteomyelitis in adults, though children can also be affected.

Symptoms include swelling, redness, and pain at the site of the infection, along with fever, chills, and fatigue.

A medical provider should be seen for these symptoms, as vertebral osteomyelitis can progress to abscess and cause further complications if not treated.

Diagnosis is made through blood tests, imaging of the spine, and sometimes biopsy.

Treatment involves several weeks of intravenous antibiotic or antifungal medication, which can be given as an outpatient.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: upper back pain, spontaneous neck or back pain, fever, foot numbness, upper leg numbness

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is also called chronic myofascial pain (CMP.) Pressure on certain points of the muscles causes referred pain, meaning the pain is felt elsewhere in the body.

The cause is believed to be muscle injury through overuse, either from sports or from a job requiring repetitive motion. Tension, stress, and poor posture can also cause habitual tightening of the muscles, a form of overuse.

This overuse causes scar tissue, or adhesions, to form in the muscles. These points are known as trigger points, since they trigger pain at any stimulus.

Symptoms include deep, aching muscular pain that does not go away with rest or massage, but may actually worsen. There is often difficulty sleeping due to pain.

Myofascial pain syndrome should be seen by a medical provider, since it can develop into a similar but more severe condition called fibromyalgia.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and applying mild pressure to locate the trigger points.

Treatment involves physical therapy, pain medications, and trigger point injections. In some cases, acupuncture and antidepressants are helpful.

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

Spine metastases

Metastasis is the term meaning the spread of cancer cells from tumors in other parts of the body. The spine is a common location for new tumors, or metastases, to form.

Some types of cancers, especially those of the breast, prostate, lung, thyroid, and kidney, are likely to spread to the spine. Exactly why this happens is not known.

Symptoms of spine metastases include back pain; bowel and urinary incontinence; arm or leg weakness; and hypercalcemia, or high levels of calcium in the blood.

Hypercalcemia can cause nausea and vomiting, constipation, and mental confusion.

These metastasized tumors can cause pain and fractures in the spine.

Diagnosis is made through various types of imaging, including x-ray, bone scintigraphy (bone scan,) CT scan, PET scan, and/or MRI.

Treatment is varied and is designed for each individual case. It may include IV osteoporosis medications to strengthen bones; chemotherapy to fight cancer cells; and steroids to reduce inflammation. All of these help to reduce pain, as well. Radiation therapy and surgery may also be used.

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

Sharp Upper Back Pain Symptom Checker

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Osteoid osteoma

Osteoid osteoma is a noncancerous bone tumor. It is most commonly found in the femur (thighbone) close to where it inserts into the hip bone. These tumors are also found in the tibia (shinbone) and the spine. Osteoid osteoma is not considered a cancerous tumor as it is very unlikely to sprea...

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Heart attack in a woman

A heart attack happens when the heart does not receive enough oxygenated blood to meet its demand, resulting in the death of heart tissue. This can be caused by a decreased supply of oxygenated blood or too high of a demand.

Symptoms include chest pain or pressure th...

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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.

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

Traumatic vertebral fracture

Vertebrae are the individual small bones that fit together, one above the other, to form the spine. If a vertebra is broken and/or dislocated due to sudden forceful injury (trauma,) this is a traumatic vertebral fracture.

The term includes fracture of the transverse processes, the "wings" of bone on either side of each vertebra. This is a less serious injury.

Automobile accidents, sports injuries, and falls from heights are common causes, as are gunshot wounds.

Symptoms include severe back pain that is worse with movement. Damage to the spinal cord causes limb numbness and weakness, with bowel and bladder dysfunction.

This is a medical emergency. One vertebra has been partially or entirely torn away from the vertebra directly below it and damaged the spinal cord. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, neurologic tests to assess ability to move, and imaging.

Surgery stabilizes and realigns the spine, which removes pressure from the spinal cord. Rehabilitation will help the patient regain normal function.

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

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Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Sharp Upper Back Pain

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • 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.)
  • What is your body mass?
  • Is the pain in your upper back moving down your arm?
  • 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

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your sharp upper back pain. These questions are also covered.

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Sharp Upper Back Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced sharp upper back pain have also experienced:

  • 4% Rib Pain
  • 4% Rib Pain On One Side
  • 4% Back Pain

People who have experienced sharp upper back pain were most often matched with:

  • 50% Vertebral Osteomyelitis
  • 25% Herniated (Slipped) Disk In The Upper Back
  • 25% Myofascial Pain Syndrome

People who have experienced sharp upper back pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 34% Less than a day
  • 27% Less than a week
  • 21% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Sharp Upper Back Pain Symptom Checker

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