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Upper Back Pain Radiating To Arm

What Are The Possible Causes Of Radiating Back Pain

Radiating Arm Pain – Where Does It Come From?

There are many possible causes of back pain. The most common causes fall into a few major categories of health concerns.

  • Muscle or ligament strains: These are extremely common. They can be caused by sudden or awkward movements, for example if you try to lift something that is too heavy or if you fall in an awkward fashion. So if you have lower back pain on the left side above your hip, this may be a muscle or ligament strain.
  • Radiculopathy: Radiculopathy is a disease of a spinal cord nerve. This can lead to pain, numbness, or weakness in the body part supplied by the nerve. Radiculopathy is typically caused by compression of the nerve as it leaves the spinal cord. This often happens when an intervertebral disc bulges and compresses the nerve as it leaves the spine. Sciatica is one example of radiculopathy that involves the leg, while upper back pain radiating to the arm may indicate radiculopathy of the upper part of your spine.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis is inflammation of a joint, and can cause pain in the joints of your spine.
  • Fractures: A fracture in the spine can result from trauma, or when bones degenerate over time, as can be seen with osteoporosis.
  • Infections: Such as kidney infections, can also cause lower back pain with frequent urination, back pain along your flank, or back pain radiating to the front, towards your bladder during urination.

Neck And Shoulder Pain Causes

  • Pain that affects this region of the body may be due to:

  • Wear and tear of the neck/spine structures due to aging or degenerative conditions, such as degenerative disc disease, which leads to the breakdown of the spinal discs that are situated between the vertebrae
  • Nerve compression in the neck, also known as cervical radiculopathy or pinched nerve
  • A sudden injury that damaged a nerve in the cervical spine, such as a sports accident
  • Bone spurs, which are tiny overgrowths on the bones in the neck, and which can sometimes grow into the spinal canal and obstruct the space needed for the spinal cord
  • Spinal stenosis in the cervical spine can compress the nerves in that region
  • Herniated/bulging discs can impinge on nerves in the neck and leads to back issues

Youre Short Of Breath

Rarely, upper back pain may be due to a punctured lung, which can be caused by an injury. While it is less likely to be the cause of your discomfort, a punctured lung is something you need to know the signs of so you can take the right action. If the pain is accompanied by shortness of breath or severe pain taking a deep breath, seek urgent medical care, advises Dr. Chang.

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Pain Moves From Your Chest To Your Back

One potential cause of back pain is a condition called costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage connecting your ribs to your breastbone. While lifting heavy items, respiratory infections, and chest injuries can cause it, often the source of the pain is unclear. You may feel pain that travels from your chest to your back. Definitely get checked out by your doctor, it often goes away without any treatment.

Treatment If Back Pain Is Severe Or Lasts A Long Time

Back Pain: Upper, Middle, Right, Left, Sudden, Severe, Chronic ...

If your back pain doesn’t get better or is severe, your doctor may recommend:

Prescription medicines.

These may include:

  • Muscle relaxants to help reduce pain and muscle tension and help you move better. These can help with severe muscle spasms that happen when the back pain starts .
  • Antidepressants, such as duloxetine. They can help treat long-lasting back pain.
  • Prescription pain medicines.
Steroid shots.

They may help reduce swelling and relieve pressure on nerves and nerve roots. But there is little evidence showing that these shots can help control back pain.

In some cases, a back brace may be used to support the bones in the spine after a fracture.

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Is Your Upper Back Pain Related To Your Arm Numbness

When upper back or shoulder pain is accompanied by numbness in the arm, it can stem from a problem in the neck or shoulder that inflames a nerve going down the arm. Some people may have worsening upper back pain and arm numbness as the day goes on, whereas others may experience worse symptoms when waking up in the morning. Here are 6 potential causes.

A cervical herniated disc may cause numbness and weakness in the arm. Watch:Cervical Herniated Disc Video

Acute Vs Chronic Back Pain

Would you describe your upper back pain with an adjective like annoying rather than debilitating? Can you trace its cause to something obvious: shoveling dirt, playing a demaning tennis match, helping a friend move? In these cases, youre probably suffering from the most common causes of acute back pain: muscle strain or overuse.

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Upper Back Pain & Numbness In Hands And Arms

by Trevor Ennis | Sep 30, 2021 | Back Pain, Chiropractic, Neck Pain |

When strange symptoms strike, its only natural to want to get to the bottom of the sensations that are throwing you off balance. This is precisely how people feel when they experience pain, tingling, and numbness in their arms and hands. In many cases, strange sensations that run up and down the arms and hands are often connected to underlying dysfunctions or injuries in other parts of the body. The upper back is one of the most common culprits. If youre trying to diagnose pain, numbness, and tingling in your arms and hands, its important to look at your symptoms from a whole-body perspective to get to the root of the issue. A chiropractor can help you do just that! Before you make an appointment, take a look at some likely causes behind your symptoms.

Onset Of Upper Back Pain Symptoms

How to Instantly Relieve Nerve Pain in Your Neck and Arm

Upper back pain symptoms could start any number of ways, including:

  • Sudden. Pain could begin immediately after an injury or out of the blue for no apparent reason at all.
  • Delayed. Sometimes pain from an injury takes a few hours or longer before it shows up. The reason for this is not always known, but it could be due to an inflammatory process or how pain might be felt in another area of the body before it is noticed in the upper back.
  • Gradual. Pain may start out mild and slowly worsen over time.

Sometimes upper back pain comes and goes. Intermittent pain may or may not become worse over time, depending on the cause. Pain could feel worse in the morning and get better during the day, or it might be worse in the evening but feel better after rest.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Acute Upper Back Pain

Acute upper back pain symptoms can differ from person to person. For some, the pain might be mild and go away within a couple days, but for others, the pain can worsen and interfere with daily tasks. With acute pain, the pain is a sign of injured or diseased tissue, the severity of the pain matches the level of tissue damage. When the tissue heals the corresponding pain is relieved. Upper back pain symptoms and treatment plans can vary depending on the cause of the underlying problem.

Some common symptoms of acute back pain are:

  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness

What Could Be Causing Your Upper Back Pain

The upper back is comprised of 12 vertebrae in the middle of the spine which allows you to stand upright and protects the organs in your chest. Upper back injuries and problems are less common than lower back problems are, but they can be just as serious and painful. If youre one of the unfortunate people who experience, upper back pain, read on to learn more.

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Symptoms Of Upper Back Pain

Symptoms can vary from person to person and depend on whats causing the pain. The pain can be mild or more severe. You might have sharp pain in one particular spot or a general achiness that comes and goes. Back pain that doesnt have a clear or known cause is called non-specific back pain.

If your back pain is significantly affecting your daily activities or stopping you from getting a good nights sleep, see your physiotherapist or GP.

Still In Pain What To Do Next

Radiating Pain Under the Base of the Shoulder

If these interventions do not help and you still have unbearable back pain, you should contact your physician, who may prescribe you stronger pain medications, refer you for physical therapy, or complete other diagnostic tests such as an x-ray of your spine. Of course, you should also remember to take steps on a daily basis to prevent back pain, like doing exercises to strengthen your core muscles , maintaining a healthy body weight, and focusing on good posture.

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Possible Back Pain Diagnoses & Treatments To Consider

If you have back pain, there are various steps you can try to alleviate your pain at home and support your body as it heals:

  • Continue the activities you can tolerate, such as sitting, standing, or walking, but avoid those that worsen the pain, like low back pain when straightening up from bending.
  • Try over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen .
  • Use a warm compress by placing a warm towel or hot water bottle on your back. This can help relax the muscles in your back and soothe some of the pain.

When Should I Call My Healthcare Provider

See your healthcare provider if you have:

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control with weakness in either leg. These symptoms need attention right away.
  • Severe back or neck pain that does not decrease with medicine and rest
  • Pain after an injury or a fall
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your legs or arms
  • Fever of 100.4°F or higher, or as advised by your healthcare provider
  • Unintentional weight loss

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Arm & Shoulder Pain Symptoms

Sometimes shoulder pain and arm pain can occur suddenly or it can occur slowly. Shoulder pain and arm pain can also occur immediately after an injury or the onset of symptoms can be delayed.

Symptoms may include deep pain, sharp pain, or a stiff shoulder, pain radiating down into the arm or up into the head. There might be tingling, numbness and pins and needles. There may be pain between the shoulder blades.

Sometimes people can be very unwell if there is a more serious cause like an infection or fracture of the spine.

What Is Back And Neck Pain

How to Instantly Relieve Nerve Pain in Your Upper Back

Back pain can range from a mild, dull, annoying ache to persistent, severe, disabling pain. Pain in your back can limit your ability to move. It can interfere with normal functioning and quality of life. Always talk with your healthcare provider if you have persistent pain.

Neck pain occurs in the area of the cervical vertebrae in your neck. Because of its location and range of motion, your neck is often left unprotected and at risk for injury.

Pain in your back or neck area can come on suddenly and intensely. Chronic pain lasts for weeks, months, or even years. The pain can be constant or come and go.

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Diagnosis Of Upper Back Pain

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They may then be able to diagnose and explain the cause of your back pain or they may need to refer you for some tests. Upper back pain is often caused by muscle strain, but sometimes there might be a more serious cause. There are particular symptoms your doctor will look for that may indicate this. They call these red flags and they include:

  • a recent injury to your back such as a car accident or a fall
  • back pain caused by a minor injury or lifting something heavy particularly if you have osteoporosis
  • if youve had cancer or you have a weakened immune system
  • other symptoms such as a fever, unexplained weight loss and chills
  • a recent bacterial infection
  • if youre younger than 20 or older than 50

Your doctor will also ask you about the pain to understand how severe it is and what could be causing it. It can also mean a red flag if:

  • symptoms havent eased despite changing position or resting
  • youve had pain for more than two weeks despite having treatment
  • you have pain that you dont think has been caused by a sprain or strain in your upper back
  • you are very stiff in the morning
  • you have pain all the time and its getting worse

Your doctor may ask if youve had any weakness in your legs, or any bladder and bowel problems such as incontinence. This may point towards pressure on the nerves in your spine or spinal cord, which could be caused by a slipped disc or injury.

The Ache Wont Go Away

Youve tried the DIY treatments, gotten massages, and maybe even bought a new mattress. If your upper back is persistently hurting, it mayvery rarelybe a sign of a lung tumor. The American Cancer Society points out that advanced lung cancer may contribute to bone pain. Weight loss, chest pain, and weakness are also signs of lung cancer.

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When To See A Doctor

Mild upper back pain or tingling that fades after a few days may just be the result of temporary inflammation that put pressure on a nerve. These symptoms dont require a doctor visit.

However, if upper back nerve pain is a recurring problem, explain your symptoms to your doctor. The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you dont already have a doctor.

If you have back pain or numbness that lasts for several days without relief, you should see a doctor soon. Also, if pain shoots down your spine or out across your torso, make an immediate appointment. Tingling or numbness in your arms or legs should also prompt a quick visit to your doctor.

Prevention Of Upper Back Pain

Chronic back pain recommends you do all in your power to prevent it.

The following tips may help to prevent you from developing upper back pain.

  • Lift objects safely and correctly by bending at your knees and not from the waist.
  • Make sure your back is properly supported when sitting.
  • If you wake up with back pain, a more supportive mattress that adjusts to your back and supports its various curves and hollows may help.
  • Take regular breaks from sitting for long periods of time and from doing repetitive tasks.
  • Practise good posture see our section on causes of back pain.
  • Exercise regularly see our FAQ on some specific exercises for upper back strength.
  • Learn and practise good technique for any sports youre doing.
  • Stop doing any activity that you know is causing your back pain.
  • Stop smoking it can speed up the degeneration of the discs between your vertebrae that act as shock absorbers.
  • If you are overweight, losing weight may help to reduce the risk of back pain.

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Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Upper Back Pain That Shoots Down The Arm

  • Turn your head toward the side of your body that is hurting. Lift your head up as someone else pushes down on your head. Does this cause greater pain in your upper body?
  • What is your body mass?
  • Do you feel a painful, tight knot or band in your muscle anywhere on the body?
  • What makes your back pain worse?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Exercises For Shoulder Blade Pain

So, what exercises should you be doing? We outline the best ones to start with below. Make sure you go slow. If any pain occurs, back off and adjust. Try again and if it happens again, avoid the pain-causing exercise for now.

  • Trapezius stretch

    This browser does not support the video element.


    The trapezius muscle makes up the upper back and shoulders. Its a common area for individuals to experience tightness, especially if the cause is posture-related. By stretching out this muscle, you can also relieve tension or pain under the shoulder blades.


  • Sit on a chair with your back straight.
  • Place one hand over your head on the back of your neck so that your forehead is resting on your forearm.
  • You should use the other hand to fixate your shoulder by holding onto the edge of the chair.
  • Turn your head towards the same side as the raised arm.
  • Pull the head diagonally forward to the side and feel it stretching down towards the shoulder blade.
  • It should not hurt in the direction that you bend your head.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat the stretch with your head bent to the opposite side.
  • Posterior shoulder capsule stretch
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    Treatment Of Upper Back Pain

    If you have upper back pain, its likely to get better by itself without treatment. If its not caused by anything serious, it will probably get better within a few weeks.

    You can try some self-care measures such as improving your posture or putting an ice pack or heat pack on the area that hurts. Make sure you wrap this in a towel and dont apply it directly to your skin. You can also take over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol as pain relief for upper back pain. Ask your pharmacist for advice.

    If the pain is caused by a particular condition, your treatment will vary depending on the underlying problem thats causing the pain.

    Treatments may include medicines, physiotherapy, injections and manual therapies.

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