What is upper back pain?
Upper back pain refers to pain in the area around the thoracic spine, which starts beneath the neck and goes down the back of the torso. Think of it is as the area of your back that’s connected to your rib cage.
Upper back pain symptoms might feel like:
- A sharp, burning pain felt in a specific spot (e.g. upper back pain between shoulder blades)
- A general achiness that can flare up and may spread to the shoulder or neck
Upper back pain causes
Unlike the lower back and neck, the upper back is relatively immobile, so it is usually resistant to injury and pain. However, when upper back pain does occur, it’s typically due to muscle tightness or joint issues after an injury.
Some common causes of upper back muscle pain include:
Not moving often or routinely sitting for long periods of time in awkward positions can strain the muscles in your back and neck, causing them to become weak and place pressure on your spine, which leads to pain. Leaning to one side more often may also lead to upper left back pain or upper right back pain.
Improper lifting technique
Lifting a heavy object without properly aligning your back, especially if you are lifting it above your head, can put a lot of stress on your upper back and shoulders and leave them susceptible to injury.
Using your upper back more than you usually do, like helping a friend move house or painting a ceiling, could cause muscle strains/sprains and inflammation in the upper back.
Accidents, such as falls or sports collisions, can cause upper back pain by injuring bones, discs or muscles in the upper back.
Ways to help relieve upper back pain
If you are looking for upper back pain relief, the good news is that upper back pain can be managed with some self-care at home. Some things you can try include:
- Keeping active – try to return to some physical activity or regular work as soon as you can
- Adjusting your posture – use an upright chair with good support and ensure your work surface is at a comfortable height
- Applying hot or cold packs to help relieve pain (whichever works best for you)
- Taking an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, like ibuprofen
If the above strategies aren’t enough, speak to your doctor about other treatments that may help manage back pain, such as:
- Physiotherapy – a physiotherapist can suggest stretches for upper back pain and other exercises to keep your back moving
- Targeted training or exercise programs (e.g., Pilates)
- Treatment with chiropractors or osteopaths
Always consult your doctor if you are concerned about your back pain for any reason.
Why ibuprofen can help
Ibuprofen is an over-the-counter pain reliever that reduces both pain and inflammation. It is the active ingredient in Nurofen and can be helpful for relieving back pain.
Nurofen can be taken as oral tablets, which can help to relieve pain & inflammation for up to 8 hours.* If you prefer a topical treatment, you can also try Nurofen Duralast dermal patches – these are placed on the skin to provide targeted relief from muscular pain and tenderness for up to 24 hours.^
When to seek medical help
Fortunately, most cases of back pain aren’t serious and resolve within a few weeks. However, you should see a doctor if:
- your pain is severe and gets worse instead of better
- your pain starts to spread to other body parts
- you feel pins-and-needles tingling in your legs, back, chest, abdomen or elsewhere
- you have reduced coordination, problems walking or a severe headache
- you have fever or chills
- you have issues with your bladder or bowel movements
- you have unexplained weight loss
- your back has redness or swelling
- your pain has started after an accident (e.g. car accident, falling from a ladder)
- you are concerned for any reason
*2x200mg Nurofen tablets relieve pain for up to 8 hours in dental pain studies. Malmstrom K et al 1999, Malmstrom K et al 2004, Mehlisch DR et al 2010 (RB Sponsored).
^Predel HG et al 2017 and Predel HG et al 2018.