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November 2020 - Atlanta Spine Clinic


Conyers office - Get directions

Decatur office- Get directions

Surgery Center - Get directions

McDonough office: - Get directions

Sandy Springs office: - Get directions

Make an Appointment

Or call: 678-369-6934

Send us an email

Suffering from Middle or Upper Back Pain? What to Know

At some point in your life, you’re likely to experience middle or upper back pain to some degree. In some cases, it might go away on its own or with conservative home treatments. In other cases, middle and upper back pain requires medical or surgical intervention to resolve.

If you’re suffering from middle upper back pain, here’s what to know regarding symptoms, possible causes, treatment options, and likely prognosis. 

What Is Middle and Upper Back Pain?

Upper back pain occurs below the neck and above the ribs, in a region known as the thoracic spine. There are 12 vertebrae in this region — the T1 to T12 vertebrae. 

When the bones, muscles, ligaments, and disks in this region are injured or disrupted, this can irritate the nerves of the spine, causing back pain.

How You Might Experience Middle or Upper Back Pain

Everyone experiences upper back pain differently, and your exact symptoms will depend on the cause of your pain. 

You might experience the following symptoms in your mid/upper back region:

  • Muscle aches
  • Dull pain
  • Sharp or stabbing pain
  • Muscle stiffness or tension

More severe and serious symptoms of upper back pain include: 

  • Tingling, numbness, or pain in the legs, arms, or chest
  • Chest pain (be sure to rule out heart problems such as a heart attack immediately in this case)
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Middle or Upper Back Pain Causes

Your upper back pain could be due to an injury, or could be occurring due to a combination of several different chronic factors. 

Poor Posture

Repeated pressure on the spine, such as that exerted by poor posture, can ultimately lead to back pain. 

When you slouch in your chair, such as during prolonged computer work, the muscles and ligaments in your back are hard at work to accommodate the pressure on your spine. Overworking these muscles can lead to aches and pains in the mid/upper back. 


Obesity increases the pressure on the bones and ligaments of the spine, and studies have shown that increased body mass is linked to increased back pains of all kinds, including neck pain, mid/upper back pain, and lower back pain.

Sprain or Strain

A sprain is caused by tearing or stretching injuries of your ligaments, while a strain is caused by similar injuries to the muscles or tendons. 

Regular lifting of heavy objects, especially without proper form or safety precautions, can lead to these sorts of injuries. 

Fall or Other Sudden Injury

In a fall, the middle back is less likely to be injured than the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back). This is because the thoracic spine (mid back) is more structured and rigid than these other regions.  

However, injuries to this location can occur after severe impacts, such as in the following accidents: 

  • Hard fall, such as down stairs or from a height
  • Auto accident
  • Blunt force trauma, such as in a construction accident
  • Sports accident

Herniated Disc

Gel-like discs of cartilage sit between the vertebrae of your back, which serve to cushion the joints. Damage to these discs, known as a herniated disc, can put pressure on nerve endings, resulting in pain, tingling, or numbness that might radiate out to the limbs. 

Diagnosing the Cause of Your Middle or Upper Back Pain

If your mid/upper back pain is severe, or has lasted more than a couple of weeks, it’s time to head to the doctor to see what might be going on. 

A doctor will take your full medical history, including any recent accidents or injuries, and perform a physical exam. He or she will then likely order neurological and imaging tests based on these findings.

Imaging studies produce images of the inside of your body, allowing the doctor to identify potential areas of tissue damage or inflammation. Neurological tests examine the function of the brain and spinal cord, and can help the doctor identify functional defects.

Treatment Solutions for Your Middle or Upper Back Pain 

Middle or upper back pain is debilitating, and can impair your ability to do your job, or simply to enjoy and complete daily activities. Fortunately, a number of treatment strategies can be used to reduce pain, and potentially to restore function in the region for a full recovery. 

We will evaluate your case and determine the best course of treatment for your upper back pain. The correct treatment will depend on the root cause of your pain and the severity of your injury or symptoms. 

Supportive Care

Sometimes, we’re best off letting the body heal itself. Supportive at-home care can help mild injuries resolve on their own. 

At-home care could include:

  • Alternated cold and warm compresses
  • Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen 
  • Exercises such as yoga to stretch and strengthen the back muscles

Medical Treatments

If you back pain is severe, or persists after supportive care, your doctor might recommend one of the following medical treatments: 

  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Steroid injections
  • Prescription painkillers or muscle relaxers for short-term use


If non-invasive medical treatments don’t sufficiently relieve your back pain, surgical interventions could be the best treatment option.

The correct surgical intervention will depend on the root cause of your upper back pain. This can range from minimally invasive spine surgery to disc replacements to more complex surgical procedures. 

If you find yourself suffering from middle or upper back pain, it’s best to get the help of a professional as soon as possible. This will avoid further injury to the area, and allow you to address the root cause of your pain before it becomes a chronic, ongoing issue. 

Reach out to schedule a consultation so that we can evaluate your case and help you select the best treatment approach for you.

What Causes Bone Spurs to Form?

Despite their painful-sounding name, most bone spurs actually don’t cause any symptoms or pain. In many cases, you might not even know you have any until an x-ray for an unrelated condition reveals them. 

However, when a bone spur does begin to disrupt the surrounding tissue, it can cause significant pain and loss of mobility. If you’ve begun to experience joint stiffness or weakness in your limbs, bone spurs could be to blame. 

Once they are diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options that can be used to alleviate the symptoms and improve your quality of life. 

What are Bone Spurs and What Causes Them?

A bone spur, also known as an osteophyte, is a smooth, hard bump of extra bone that slowly forms on the ends of bones. Their formation is much more common after age 60, but younger adults can also experience them in some cases. 

Bone spurs most commonly occur at joints, where two bones meet. They are most often caused by inflammation to that area. For example, due to osteoarthritis or tendonitis. 

Chronic inflammation at the joint stimulates osteoblasts, the cells that form new bone tissue, to deposit bone tissue in that area, eventually leading to a bony projection, or bone spur. 

In rare cases, they can occur due to congenital conditions that you’re born with. For example, an osteochondroma.

Common Locations for Bone Spurs

Bone spurs most commonly form around the joints, where two bones meet. This can happen anywhere in the body, but they are most common in your: 

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Shoulders
  • Spine
  • Neck
  • Hips
  • Knees

Generally, inflammation in the joint or surrounding connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) in these areas causes bone spurs to pop up. 

Bone Spur Signs and Symptoms

Most bone spurs take many years to form, and — as mentioned above — you might not ever experience symptoms. However, if the spurs begin to rub against your bones or nerves, you could feel pain or stiffness in the area. 

The exact symptoms you’ll experience depend on the location of the bone spur:


Your shoulder joint is able to move in many different directions due to its complex structure. This also invites formation of bone spurs, which could cause pain, stiffness, and weakness in your shoulder. 


Bone spurs in the spine usually form between the vertebrae. This can cause stiffness and pain in the back. If the nerves encased by the spinal column are affected, spinal spurs can also cause radiating pain, weakness, or tingling into the limbs. 


Bone spurs in the neck, or cervical spine, commonly form between vertebrae. This can result in aching or dull pain in the neck, which can worsen with activity. You could also experience headaches, reduced mobility, or radiating pain into your arm.


Spurs that form in the joints of the fingers are easier to see than in many other locations. You might notice that the joints in your fingers are knobby, and begin to experience stiffness, swelling, and pain at the affected joints. 


Bone spurs in the feet form on the heel, and can cause severe symptoms, such as a sharp pain when you first stand up in the morning, and a dull ache in the heel through the rest of the day. You might also be able to see a small, bony protrusion under the heel. 


Hip bone spurs can make it painful to move your hip, although you might actually experience the pain in the knee. Depending on their location on the joint, hip spurs can also reduce your hip’s range of motion.


The most common symptom of bone spurs in the knee is pain when you extend and bend your knee. 

Risk Factors and Underlying Conditions That Cause Bone Spurs

A number of underlying conditions can cause spur formation: 


Osteoarthritis is by far the most common cause of bone spurs in any location in the body. This is arthritis caused by long-term wear and tear on the joints. It’s most common in adults over the age of 60, but can occur earlier if a joint has been damaged by repetitive use.

Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus can also cause bone spurs. In these conditions, spurs still tend to become more common with age, but can pop up in younger adults. 

Acute Injury

Spurs can also form after a joint or tendon is injured, such as in a sports injury or auto accident. The natural healing process for these injuries can sometimes stimulate excess bone growth as the body attempts to heal.

Other risk factors for bone spurs include: 

  • Overuse — for example frequent running, dancing, or horseback riding over a long period of time
  • Genetic predisposition 
  • Diet, especially if you have certain food allergies and continue to eat these foods
  • Obesity
  • Narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis)
  • Degenerative disc disease

Bone Spur Treatment Options

The approach to treatment for bone spurs will depend on the severity of the spur, the severity of the symptoms, and the affected joint.

Conservative treatment options such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and injections can help alleviate the pain and loss of mobility associated with bone spurs, and also decrease the underlying inflammation.

In severe cases, spurs can be removed through surgical procedures. This treatment option is more invasive, so is most commonly for severe cases where other treatment options haven’t been effective. 

If you are experiencing pain or stiffness that you think could be caused by a bone spur today, contact us to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bhatti at Atlanta Spine. Our team will identify the root cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan to improve your quality of life.