What are the Most Common Causes of Severe Upper Back Pain?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2020
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The most common causes of severe upper back pain include injuries from trauma, poor posture, joint issues, and spinal injuries. Among people who work desk jobs, poor posture is perhaps the most common cause of severe upper back pain, as undue strain can be placed on the neck, shoulders, and upper back throughout the work day. Spinal injuries such as herniated discs have the potential to cause severe upper back pain, especially if nerve compression results from the herniation. Muscle strains and tears can also cause pain in this region, especially among athletic people.

Poor posture is a common cause of severe upper back pain. As the neck and shoulders slouch, the muscles will tend to tighten, leading to headaches, shoulder aches, and back aches. Muscles tend to tighten as they become tired, and slouching can tire the muscles out. Tired muscles are more likely to incur injuries such as muscle strains and tears, and tight muscles can lead to stiffness and altered body movements which in turn perpetuate the pain. Paying attention to one's posture throughout the day, or investing in ergonomic furniture such as ergonomic chairs that support the back, can help alleviate such pain and improve posture.


A herniated disc in the spine is a common problem that occurs when any one of the spinal discs, which sit between the vertebrae, rupture or bulge, putting pressure on the nerves that surround it. A spinal disc is a sac filled with a gel-like fluid, and it is intended to act as a shock absorber for the spine. A bulging disc can put pressure on nerves that can in turn cause pain throughout the area of the body serviced by that nerve. Severe upper back pain may also result from a herniated disc; most herniated discs heal on their own with adequate rest, but some may need to be addressed surgically.

Joint problems can lead to severe upper back pain, especially if one suffers from arthritis anywhere in the spine. Arthritis occurs when the ligament and cartilage in joints begin to break down, opening the joint up to several different problems, such as bone degradation, nerve damage, swelling, and inflammation. This is a degenerative condition for which there is no cure, but pain management measures are available. When arthritis occurs in the spine or the joints of the shoulders, severe upper back pain may result; a doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or a regular exercise and stretching routine meant to help slow the progress of the arthritis.


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Post 3

I had severe back pain during the second and third trimester of my pregnancy. I couldn't take medications, so I went for pregnancy yoga. It actually made a huge difference.

Post 2

@anamur-- You need a proper diagnosis because there are different back problems that can lead to pain. The article mentioned the most common causes.

For example, scoliosis and a pinched nerve can both lead to back pain. But the treatments are different, so the diagnosis is important.

More than likely, posture is the problem. Changing your chair at work might help. If you can see a spine specialist and a physical therapist, that would be great.

Post 1

I've been suffering from severe upper back pain for several months now. I think that it's posture related because the pain started soon after I started a new job. I have a desk job and work with a computer all day. I try to sit straight but it's difficult. My upper back hurts everyday, sometimes it's quite severe.

I saw my doctor about it briefly and all he recommended was a pain reliever. What can I do for back pain relief?

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