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upper left back pain

What Causes Upper (Thoracic) Back Pain and When to See a Doctor?

Upper back pain can be both discomforting and concerning, often requiring individuals to seek answers about its causes and when it needs medical attention. This body area is particularly susceptible to various issues, ranging from musculoskeletal strains to potentially serious medical conditions. According to Statistics Canada, 4 out of 5 adults will encounter at least one episode of back pain, whether in the upper or lower part, during their lifetime. While it’s most common between ages 30 and 50, it can happen at any age. 

These statistics underscore the widespread nature of back pain and the importance of understanding its causes and seeking appropriate medical care when needed. In this blog, we’ll discuss the common causes of upper mid thoracic back pain, explore associated symptoms, and outline the proper steps to take when experiencing such discomfort. We will also inform you why you need physiotherapy treatment to treat your back pain. Let’s discuss it in detail!

What Causes Upper Back Pain?

There are various reasons for upper left back pain. Some of them are listed below:

Muscle Strain 

Overexertion or sudden movements can strain the muscles in the upper left back, leading to pain and discomfort. This strain may occur during activities like lifting heavy objects or engaging in repetitive motions. The affected area might feel tender to the touch, and movements such as lifting or twisting may exacerbate the pain. Consulting your doctor or a professional physiotherapist in such a scenario will be appropriate.

Poor Posture 

Prolonged periods of sitting or standing with poor spinal alignment can strain the muscles in the upper back, causing pain and stiffness over time. This discomfort may worsen with continued poor posture habits and lead to chronic issues if not addressed through corrective measures like ergonomic adjustments or posture exercises. Talk to your physiotherapist at a physiotherapy Winnipeg clinic for an effective treatment plan for upper back pain due to poor posture.


Trauma or injury to the upper left back, such as a fall or impact during sports activities, can cause pain, bruising, and swelling in the affected area. Depending on the severity of the injury, there may be visible signs like bruising or deformity, and movement may be limited or painful. Immediate medical attention is often necessary to assess and treat the injury properly. A physiotherapist is involved in rehabilitation to restore strength and mobility to the injured area. Additionally, treatment may include rest, ice therapy, pain management, and physical therapy exercises tailored to the individual’s condition. 

Disc Herniation 

Herniation of a spinal disc in the upper back can compress nearby nerves, leading to pain, numbness, or tingling sensations that radiate down the arm. This condition, often referred to as a “pinched nerve,” can cause shooting or burning pain in the upper back region, along with weakness or tingling in the arm. Treatment may involve physical therapy, rest, or, in severe cases, surgery to alleviate pressure on the affected nerve.


Conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and stiffness in the joints of the upper back, resulting in chronic pain and reduced mobility. Individuals with arthritis may experience worsening symptoms with movement or changes in weather, and stiffness in the morning is a common complaint. Management typically involves a combination of medication, exercise, and lifestyle modifications to improve function and alleviate pain.

Digestive & Heart Issues 

Problems with organs in the upper abdomen, such as the stomach, pancreas, or  kidney, may cause pain in the upper back region. This pain can be a dull ache or discomfort and may be accompanied by other symptoms like indigestion, nausea, or changes in bowel habits. In some cases, upper back pain may be a symptom of a heart attack, especially if it is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of cardiovascular distress. This type of pain may feel like pressure, tightness, or a squeezing sensation in the chest or upper back and should be promptly evaluated by a medical professional. 

Foraminal Stenosis

In cervical foraminal stenosis, typically found in the lower neck, pain may radiate down into the shoulder blade region. Though less common, thoracic foraminal stenosis can also cause pain in the upper back, often on one side, like the left. Pain associated with foraminal stenosis can vary from mild to intense, sometimes accompanied by sensations like tingling, numbness, or weakness. 

Compression Fractures

It can result from various activities such as heavy lifting, sports, auto accidents, or falls. While most compression fractures cause pain in the middle or both sides of the spine, some may predominantly affect one side. In severe cases, compression fractures can lead to compression of spinal nerves, potentially causing localized pain or discomfort.

Symptoms of Upper Low Back Pain

Common symptoms associated with upper back pain may include:

  • Neck pain
  • Foot problems
  • Pain, numbness, or weakness in arms or legs
  • Achy, throbbing pain
  • Pain radiating down the leg
  • Burning or sharp pain
  • Muscle tightness or stiffness
  • Tingling, numbness or weakness
  • Radiating pain along a nerve distribution

Remember, this is not a complete list! Symptoms of the upper low back may differ from person to person.

Best Physiotherapy Treatment for Upper Low Back Pain Relief

A physiotherapist who helps with back pain will determine what’s causing your lower back pain and suggest a plan to help you feel better. This plan will be personalized to you so you can get relief from your pain. Since back pain can often reoccur,  this therapy will also teach you how to keep your back healthy and prevent the pain from coming back. These therapies aim to help mitigate your pain, improve your daily activities, improve your posture, and stop the pain from returning. 


Various factors, including muscle strain, poor posture, injury, or underlying medical conditions such as arthritis or herniated discs, can cause upper low back pain. It’s essential to pay attention to the severity and persistence of the pain. If the discomfort persists despite home remedies such as rest, ice, or over-the-counter pain relievers, seeking medical attention from a professional physiotherapist is advised. 

Bridgwater Physiotherapy offers professional evaluation and treatment options tailored to address the specific causes of upper low back pain, promoting recovery and improving overall quality of life. Our physiotherapists are highly trained and experienced professionals dedicated to providing personalized care and support to every patient. We utilize evidence-based techniques to effectively alleviate pain, improve mobility, and enhance strength and body function. Contact Us Today!