Upper back (cervical) pain causes

Living with chronic pain in the upper back or neck is bad enough on its own. The painful symptoms can make you feel like you’re missing out on life when even the simplest things — a trip to the park or a day at work — become difficult. Not knowing the root cause of your upper back pain only adds to the stress and hardship because it prevents you from being able to find an effective treatment.

Most upper back pain causes are muscular in nature, needing only light therapy and a little time to heal. However, the pain can also be caused by an issue in the spinal column. When trying to determine the source of your pain, it is important to see a doctor for a correct diagnosis and initial treatment plan.

The role of nerve roots

There are many ways that problems in the spine can develop, from normal wear and tear to an injury from an accident. The spine is divided into three main regions: upper or neck (cervical), middle (thoracic) and lower (lumbar). If the spinal cord or any of the nerve roots exiting the spine get pinched from something like a displaced disc or an abnormal bone growth, pain and discomfort can happen throughout the body.

When a nerve gets pinched or compressed in the cervical spine, symptoms like numbness can radiate out to the upper back and neighboring areas. There are eight pairs of nerve roots that exit the upper spine, spreading out to give feeling to different areas. The general body parts and their associated cervical nerve roots are:

  • C1–C2 — Head
  • C3–C4 — Neck and diaphragm for motor control
  • C5 — Shoulder, upper body
  • C6 — Wrist, thumb and biceps
  • C7 — Triceps, middle fingers
  • C8 — Small finger area of hands

Common conditions that cause upper back pain

Upper back pain causes can also happen because of conditions in the thoracic region. Nerve compression is less common here than in the cervical spine, but there are other potentially painful conditions that do affect this area:

  • Osteoarthritis — when the cartilage that allows for smooth motion wears out, causing the bones to rub against each other
  • Osteoporosis — weak or brittle bones
  • Degenerative disc disease — breakdown of discs due to the aging process
  • Compression fractures — small but very painful cracks in the bone
  • Scheuermann’s disease — an irregular spine curvature (kyphosis) caused when the front of the spine grows slower than the back of the spine
  • Structural (secondary) kyphosis — an irregular spine curvature stemming from another spinal condition, such as Paget’s disease
  • Postural kyphosis — an irregular curvature caused by poor posture


If you are considering surgery to alleviate chronic upper back pain symptoms, contact Laser Spine Institute. To date, we have helped more than 75,000 patients address the causes of neck and back pain with minimally invasive spine surgeries that are performed on an outpatient basis. Our minimally invasive decompression surgery and minimally invasive stabilization surgery is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open neck and back surgery.

Reach out to us today to receive a consultation review of your MRI report or CT scan.