Why do I Have Sharp Pain in the Top of My Back?

Experiencing a sharp, stabbing pain in the top of your back can be alarming. While there are many potential causes, most are treatable with some basic self-care. Let’s explore some of the common reasons for upper back pain and how to get relief.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strains are a very common cause of upper back pain. You may have overworked or injured the muscles along your spine from poor posture, repetitive motions, or strenuous activity. Upper back muscle strains trigger sharp, localized pain when moving the affected muscles. Applying heat, gentle stretching, and over-the-counter pain medication can help reduce discomfort. Try to avoid movements that aggravate the strained muscle while it heals.

Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve in your upper back can also lead to stabbing pain in that area. Nerves branch out from your spine through small openings between vertebrae. If these spaces narrow due to injury, disk degeneration, or inflammation, it may pinch adjacent nerves. This pinching irritates the nerves and causes sharp back pain. Seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor can help address the underlying cause through stretches, manipulations, or exercises that take pressure off the nerve.


Spinal arthritis is another potential culprit behind painful upper back spasms. Osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis affect the joints between vertebrae in the spine. As these joints break down, the rubbing of bone on bone and inflammation pinches nerves, triggering sharp back pain. Anti-inflammatory medication, hot/cold therapy, and regular low-impact exercise can provide relief from arthritis back pain. In severe cases, surgery may be required.

No matter the cause, don’t ignore persistent sharp upper back pain. See your doctor for an exam and possible imaging tests to diagnose the problem. Most cases of sharp upper back pain can be treated successfully with rest, physical therapy, medication, or minimally invasive procedures. Prompt treatment will help ease the discomfort and prevent future flareups.