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How to Relieve Middle Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Man sitting at desk having middle back pain

Back pain, whether from a muscle strain, ruptured disk, or chronic health condition, is one of the most common medical issues worldwide.1 Back pain symptoms might present as a burning, shooting, or stabbing sensation in the back area and may be made worse by physical activity like lifting heaving objects, standing, walking, twisting, or bending down.1 Most back pain is treatable at home but in some extreme cases, like back pain that doesn’t go away after a few weeks, may need to be treated by a doctor.1

Thoracic Back Pain

One potential cause of middle back pain is pain caused by the thoracic spine. The term “thoracic spine” refers to 12 vertebrae that run from the base of the neck down to the bottom of the ribs.2 Although the thoracic spine is fairly stable, it can be injured and cause discomfort in the middle back area.2 The thoracic spine plays a key role in supporting back health and healthy posture.2 It keeps the spinal cord and the spinal nerves that branch out from the cord safe, it attaches to the ribs, it allows the body to comfortably bend and twist, and it keeps the chest and abdomen stable.2

What Causes Back Pain Related to the Thoracic Spine?

Middle back pain related to the thoracic spine may be related to an injury or irritation to the tissue that surrounds and connects to the spinal area.2 Middle back pain causes involving tissue including the following:2

  • Bad posture or long periods of sitting that cause the muscles to tighten and produce muscle tension and irritation
  • An overstretched or torn ligament
  • Trauma or injury like a fall that directly impacts your thoracic spine or ribcage
  • Repetitive motions like bending or lifting that cause an overuse injury

Injuries or issues with the spinal cord such as a spinal tumor or spinal fracture may also cause middle back pain.2

How to Treat Middle Back Pain Related to the Thoracic Spine

Middle back pain is commonly due to a ligament or muscle strain and will go away over time.2 You can relieve thoracic spine pain without surgery via epidural steroid injections (ESIs) or physical therapy.2 Talk to your doctor about the options available to you.

Often, the best way to avoid middle back pain is to practice healthy lifestyle choices that keep your thoracic spine in top condition.2 Wear supportive footwear, maintain healthy posture, make sure you’re moving throughout the day, find a supportive mattress and pillow, and do exercises to strengthen your core muscles.2

Trapezius Muscle Pain

Another common cause of middle back pain is pain related to the trapezius muscle. The trapezius muscle stretches from the base of the neck across the shoulders and down through the middle of the back.3 It supports healthy posture and comfortable movement by controlling head tilting and turning, torso twisting, shoulder shrugging, and shoulder lifting.3 If you’re experiencing middle back pain, it may be related to the section of this muscle called the middle trapezius, which extends across the shoulders.3

What Causes Back Pain Related to the Trapezius Muscle?

If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may have an issue or injury that’s impacting your trapezius muscle:3

  • Neck or shoulder pain or stiffness
  • Decreased mobility like difficulty shrugging your shoulders
  • Pain in the area between your shoulder blades
  • Tenderness or swelling in the back, neck, or shoulder area

Muscle strains, pain, and nerve damage can all impact the health of trapezius muscle function.3 The following conditions can cause trapezius muscle issues and middle back pain:3

  • Overuse, intensive exercise, or an accident may stretch or tear your trapezius muscle, which can cause muscle cramps and spasms
  • Unhealthy posture can cause trapezius muscle tightness
  • Nerve damage from surgery

How to Treat Middle Back Pain Related to the Trapezius Muscle

Depending on how severe your trapezius muscle pain, the pain may go away on its own with rest or it may require more a more intensive treatment option like surgery.3 Acupuncture and dry needling is one option for relieving tightness or pain, as is massage therapy.3 If you’re dealing with back pain from a minor muscle tear or strain, rest and hydration may do the trick.3 If you have a severe tear in your trapezius muscle causing middle back pain, you may need surgery. Talk to your doctor about available treatment options.3

Making healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent middle back pain due to trapezius muscle issues.3 Exercise such as yoga and gentle stretching to increase flexibility—while always making sure to warm up first—can help prevent injury and strain.3

How to Get Quick Relief for Back Pain

Many of the above solutions for middle back pain involve exercise, physical therapy, and other lifestyle choices that make an impact over time.4 For immediate back pain relief, take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen or using a topical pain reliever.4 One great option is Advil Dual Action Back Pain, formulated with two pain relieving medications to target middle back pain at the site of inflammation and block pain signals to your brain, so that you can keep on moving.

Source Citations:

  1. Back pain: Symptoms & causes. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 3/23/23.
  2. Thoracic Spine. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 3/23/23.
  3. Trapezius Muscle. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 3/23/23.
  4. Back pain: Diagnosis & treatment. Accessed 3/23/23.

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