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Upper and Middle Back Pain - Cause

In most cases, upper and middle back pain is caused by:

For example, some people hurt their backs when they:

  • Slump or slouch when they sit or stand.
  • Play sports or do yard work.
  • Get jolted in a car accident.
  • Get hit hard in the back.
  • Lift something too heavy.

Conditions that put pressure on the spinal nerves also can cause pain. These include:

  • OsteoarthritisOsteoarthritis. This occurs when the cartilage that cushions the small facet joints in the spine breaks down. When this happens, the back bones rub together and cause damage and pain. Osteoarthritis is caused by the normal wear and tear of the cartilage as you age.
  • A fracture of the vertebrae, which can occur when a lot of force is put on the spine. This force can be from a car or bike accident or a direct blow to the spine. A compression fracture occurs when an injury to the bones in the spine causes them to break and collapse (compress) on each other, such as from a fall. In people who have osteoporosis, which makes the bones brittle and weak, a spinal bone can also break and collapse from only a minor injury or simply moving the wrong way.
  • An odd-shaped spine, such as with scoliosis or kyphosis. This can make your back hurt. When you look at a normal spine from the back, it is usually straight. But when a person has scoliosis, the spine curves from side to side, often in an S or C shape. It may also be twisted. When a person has kyphosis, the upper spine is rounded and looks like a hump. In bad cases of scoliosis or kyphosis, a person may have a hard time breathing.
  • A herniated discA herniated disc. This occurs when one of the small, spongy discs that cushion your spine bulges or breaks open and presses on the nerves in the spine. A herniated disc may be caused by normal wear and tear of the disc as you age. Or it may be brought on by activities that you do over and over again that cause a lot of vibration or motion (such as using a jackhammer) or by a sudden heavy strain or increased force to your back. In most cases, a herniated disc occurs in the lower back or neck. It can occur in the upper or middle back, but this is rare. See a picture of a herniated disc camera.gif.
  • Spinal stenosisSpinal stenosis. The spinal cord runs through an opening in the bones called the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis occurs when that opening narrows. In some cases, bone, ligament, and disc tissue grows into the spinal canal and presses on the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. The tissue can also squeeze and irritate or injure the spinal cord itself. In most cases, spinal stenosis occurs in the lower back and neck. It can occur in your upper or middle back, but this is rare.
  • Degenerative disc diseaseDegenerative disc disease. This is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal changes that occur in your spinal discs as you age. Over time, the discs in your spine break down, or degenerate. A loss of fluid in the discs or tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer of the discs can occur over time. The breakdown of the discs can cause back or neck pain, arthritis, spinal stenosis, or a herniated disc. A sudden injury to your back, such as from a fall or a car accident, may also start this process. This problem can occur anywhere on your spine. But in most cases, it occurs in the discs in the lower back and neck.

In rare cases, upper and middle back pain may be caused by other problems, such as gallbladder disease, cancer, or an infection.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 19, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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