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Upper and Middle Back Pain - Overview

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This topic provides an overview of upper and middle back pain. If you have low back pain or neck pain, see the topic Low Back Pain or Neck Pain.

What is upper and middle back pain?

Upper and middle back pain can occur anywhere from the base of your neck to the bottom of your rib cage camera.gif.

Your ribs attach to a long, flat bone in the center of the chest called the sternum and attach to and wrap around your back. If a nerve in this area is pinched, irritated, or injured, you may also feel pain in other places where the nerve travels, such as your arms, legs, chest, and belly.

The upper and middle back (called the thoracic spine) has:

  • 12 vertebrae. These bones attach to your rib cage. They make up the longest part of your back.
  • Discs camera.gif that separate each vertebra and absorb shock as you move.
  • Muscles and ligaments that hold the spine together.

See a picture of the spine camera.gif.

Upper and middle back pain is not as common as low back pain or neck pain, because the bones in this area of the back don't flex or move as much as the bones in your lower back or neck. Instead, they work with the ribs to keep the back stable and help protect vital organs, such as the heart and lungs.

What causes upper and middle back pain?

Upper and middle back pain may be caused by:

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

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of upper and middle back pain are:

  • A dull, burning, or sharp pain.
  • Muscle tightness or stiffness.

More serious symptoms that need to be treated right away include:

  • Weakness in your arms or legs.
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms, legs, chest, or belly.
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control.

How is upper and middle back pain diagnosed?

Your doctor will first ask you about your past health, your symptoms, and your work and physical activities. Then he or she will do a physical exam. Your doctor may also order an imaging test, such as an X-ray or an MRI, to find out if something such as a broken bone or a herniated disc is causing your pain.

You may need more tests to check for other possible causes for your pain.

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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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