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Topic Overview

    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.

    How is it treated?

    In most cases, people with mild to moderate back pain can manage their symptoms with:

    But if your pain gets worse and you're having a hard time doing your daily activities, you may need to take a prescription pain medicine. Surgery is seldom used to treat upper and middle back pain.

    How can you care for yourself at home?

    There are several things you can do at home to help reduce your pain. For example:

    • Rest. If your back hurts a lot, take a break. But try not to let too much time pass before you get moving again. Instead, return to your activities slowly.
    • Use over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (for example, Advil, Aleve, aspirin, and Motrin). These can reduce pain and swelling.
    • Use a heating pad or ice pack. Heat can reduce pain and stiffness. Ice can help reduce pain and swelling.
    • Exercise. Exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles in your back, shoulders, and stomach can help improve your posture, decrease your chance of injury, and reduce pain.
    • Practice good posture. Be sure to stand or sit tall. Don't slump or slouch.
    • Learn ways to reduce stress. You might try deep breathing and relaxation exercises or meditation.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: August 16, 2013
    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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