What are the Causes of Upper Back Aches?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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The causes of upper back aches range from the simple and easily fixed to the more serious and complicated. The most common causes of upper back aches are muscle aches due to poor posture or overuse, while more serious conditions include arthritis, herniated discs in the spine, or spinal deformities. In most cases, changing some daily habits can help alleviate pain in the upper back, but in rarer cases, surgery or other medical attention may be necessary. Upper back aches are commonly caused by strain on the neck and shoulders, which occurs when sitting at a desk for long periods of time or while doing heavy lifting.

Upper back aches that manifest themselves as dull pains in the back, shoulders, and neck may be a result of overuse. As muscles tire, they tend to tighten, which means undue stress is being placed on the joints in the neck, back, and shoulders. Muscle tightness alone can lead to discomfort as well. In such cases, stretching the muscles can help alleviate the pain, as can over-the-counter painkillers. For more serious upper back aches, doctor-prescribed painkillers or muscle relaxants may be necessary. Any medication prescribed will usually be part of a recovery plan that includes exercise and stretching as well as medication intake.


A more serious condition that can cause upper body aches is arthritis. Generally speaking, arthritis is the weakening of a joint due to degradation of bones and ligaments. As ligaments wear out or weaken, the bones in the joints are allowed to move in ways they otherwise would not. Very often, those bones begin to rub against each other, causing moderate to intense pain. Arthritis may manifest itself as upper body aches, though only a doctor can verify the condition. Arthritis is treated with a combination of medication, stretching, and exercise, and while a recovery is possible, a full recovery is rare.

Injuries resulting from direct impacts or other impacts the body was not prepared for commonly cause upper back aches. Sports injuries in particular are quite common, and when a muscle is overflexed or quickly flexed while unprepared for the impact, that muscle may become strained or torn. Stretching the muscle and applying ice to it can often alleviate the pain, but in more severe instances, several days or weeks of rest may be necessary, followed by a recovery routine of exercise, stretching, or other physical therapy.


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