Why Does My Upper Back Hurt All the Time?

If you find yourself frequently asking “why does my upper back hurt?” you’re not alone. Upper back pain is very common, affecting many adults at some point in their lives. The upper back refers to the region between your neck and lower back and includes important structures like your shoulder blades, ribs, spine, and muscles. There are several potential causes for chronic or recurring upper back discomfort.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strains are one of the most prevalent sources of upper back pain. The muscles in your upper back connect your neck, shoulders, and spine. Staying in poor posture for extended periods, repetitive motions, and overuse can overwork these muscles and lead to painful spasms and stiffness. Bad posture like slouching at a desk or looking down at your phone strains the muscles as they try to compensate. Sleeping in an awkward position can also cause muscle tightness. Activities requiring repetitive arm motions such as swimming, tennis, or golf may result in muscular imbalances and trigger points.

Poor Posture

Speaking of posture, slouching or hunching over can throw off the natural alignment of your upper back and cause discomfort. When your head juts forward and shoulders round, it places extra stress on your upper back muscles, joints, and ligaments. Maintaining proper upright posture takes pressure off your upper back. Be mindful of your posture throughout the day and avoid slumping.

Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve in your upper back can also cause chronic pain in the area. Nerves branch out from the spinal cord between vertebrae. If surrounding bone or tissue squeezes one of these nerves, it can become compressed and irritated. This commonly happens due to herniated discs, bone spurs, bulging discs, or spinal arthritis. A pinched nerve radiates pain into your upper back, along with tingling and numbness through your arms and hands.


Arthritis is inflammation of the joints from wear and tear over time. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis often affect the upper spine and back. Deterioration of the discs and vertebrae can lead to upper back stiffness and achiness, especially with movement. Arthritis pain tends to worsen with age as the cartilage breaks down.

Whiplash Injury

If you’ve ever had a car accident or impact injury, you may deal with lingering upper back problems like whiplash. Whiplash is caused by the sudden hyperextension and flexion of the neck from the force of an abrupt movement. This can strain the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your upper back and cervical spine. Whiplash upper back pain may be accompanied by neck stiffness, headaches, and reduced range of motion.