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What Causes Upper Left Back Pain

Upper left back pain is a common issue that can significantly impact our daily lives. Pain, whether dull or sharp, can make daily tasks like sitting, standing, or breathing uncomfortable.

As a chiropractor with over 25 years of experience, I’ve seen firsthand how debilitating upper left back pain can be for my patients. Understanding the underlying reasons for chronic discomfort is critical to achieving effective relief.

In this blog post, I will discuss the various factors contributing to upper left back pain, and what specialized protocols I use to treat it.

Understanding Upper Left Back Pain

Upper left back pain refers to discomfort or aching sensations experienced in the upper left region of the back, typically around the thoracic spine (the middle portion of the spine). This pain can be minor or severe and may radiate or remain localized in the upper left back.

The thoracic spine is in the upper left back. It comprises 12 vertebrae and many muscles, nerves, and soft tissues. This region plays a vital role in supporting the upper body’s weight and facilitating various movements, such as twisting, bending, and reaching.

Related, Should I See a Chiropractor for Lower Back Pain?

Common Causes of Upper Left Back Pain

Upper left back pain can arise from various reasons, such as muscle strain or a medical problem. Here are among the common causes,

1. Muscle Strain

One of the most common causes of upper left back pain is muscle strain or overuse. It can occur due to repetitive motions, improper lifting techniques, or sudden movements that strain muscles in the upper back region (1).

Heavy work can cause muscle strain and pain in the upper left back. Sports that require bending or moving the arms overhead, or even bad posture that lasts for a long time can also cause back discomfort.

Muscle strains can range from mild discomfort to severe, debilitating pain, making it difficult to perform everyday activities.

2. Herniated Disc

A herniated disc, also called a swollen or ruptured disc, can hurt the nerves in the spine and cause discomfort in the upper left back. It happens when the nucleus pulposus of the spinal disc bulges through the tough outer layer.

Herniated discs in the thoracic spine, the middle section of the spine, can lead to localized pain, numbness, tingling sensations, or even muscle weakness in the upper left back area and surrounding regions.

3. Scoliosis and Kyphosis

Conditions like scoliosis and kyphosis can cause pain in the upper left back due to abnormal spinal curvature. These conditions can make muscles too tight or stretched, causing strain on muscles and joints in that area.

This uneven distribution of forces can lead to discomfort, inflammation, and potential long-term issues if left untreated.

4. Spinal Stenosis

People with spinal stenosis have small spaces inside their spines, which puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. It can happen in the upper back area of the spine, causing pain in the left side of the upper back. It may also cause numbness, weakness, or cramping in nearby areas.

Degenerative changes, herniated discs, or bone spurs can cause spinal stenosis. If not managed correctly, it can worsen over time.

5. Osteoarthritis and Fractures

As we age, osteoarthritis and upper back fractures can cause pain on the left side. Osteoarthritis can cause inflammation and disruption of the cartilage that protects the joints, causing pain and stiffness (2).

Injuries to the middle part of the spine can cause discomfort in the upper left back. It happens because there is pressure on muscles and tissues in that area.

6. Myofascial Pain and Obesity

Myofascial pain is pain and swelling in the fascia, the connective layers surrounding muscles. It can occur in the upper left back region due to repetitive strain, muscle imbalances, or poor posture. Trigger points, or knots, can develop in the myofascial tissues, causing referred pain and discomfort.

Being overweight or obese can make your muscles and back hurt more. It might make the upper left back hurt and feel bad.

7. Postural Issues

Bad posture from sitting too long, slouching or bad ergonomics can hurt muscles and joints in the upper left back (3). This strain may eventually lead to muscular imbalances.

It can make some muscles too tight or stretched. It might hurt and make that spot uncomfortable. Maintaining good posture is crucial for preventing upper left back pain and promoting overall spinal health.

8. Age and Lack of Physical Activity

As we age, our muscles and joints lose some strength and flexibility due to degenerative changes. Sedentary lifestyles can also cause muscle weakness, stiffness, and poor posture, which raise the risk of upper left back discomfort and other musculoskeletal ailments.

Active living and regular exercise are vital for maintaining health and minimizing back discomfort as we age.

9. Smoking and Lack of Exercise

Smoking can decrease blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscles and soft tissues, potentially contributing to upper left-back pain. Lack of exercise can also cause muscle weakness and bad posture, worsening back discomfort.

10. Organ-Related Cases

In some cases, upper left back pain may be a symptom of an underlying organ-related issue. For example, kidney stones, pancreatitis, or even heart-related problems can sometimes manifest as pain in the upper left back area. Regulating any potential organ-related causes with your healthcare provider is essential.

Related, Chiropractic Care for Breech Presentation & Back Pain During Pregnancy

Chiropractic Care for Upper Left Back Pain

As a chiropractor, my primary goal is to alleviate upper left back pain and address its underlying causes through various chiropractic techniques and a comprehensive approach to back pain treatment.

1. Manual Manipulation

Manual manipulation, or spinal adjustments, is essential to chiropractic care. Through precise, controlled movements, I gently realign the thoracic vertebrae and surrounding joints, reducing pressure on the nerves and promoting proper spinal mobility. It can help alleviate upper left back pain and improve overall spinal health.

2. Tailored Treatment Plans

Every patient is unique, and their upper left back pain may have different underlying causes or contributing factors. I believe in developing tailored treatment plans that address each individual’s needs and symptoms. I can achieve more effective and lasting relief from upper left back pain by taking a personalized approach.

3. Addressing Muscle Imbalance

Muscle imbalances, whether due to postural issues, repetitive strain, or spinal misalignments, can significantly contribute to upper left-back pain. I work to correct these imbalances through targeted stretches, exercises, and manual therapy techniques, restoring proper muscle balance and alleviating strain on the upper left back region.

What Causes Upper Left Back Pain

4. Myofascial Pain Relief

For patients experiencing myofascial pain in the upper left back, I employ various manual myofascial therapy techniques. These can include trigger point therapy, soft tissue mobilization, and myofascial release methods to address adhesions, knots, and tightness in the affected muscles and connective tissues.

5. Joint Dysfunction Management

Suppose joint dysfunction or restricted mobility in the thoracic spine contributes to upper left back pain. In that case, I may utilize specific adjustment techniques to normalize joint function and improve the range of motion. I can include gentle thrust or non-thrust techniques depending on the patient’s needs and preferences.

The Final Words

Upper left back pain can be very painful and has many reasons, such as strained muscles, misaligned spine, organ problems, and bad habits in daily life. As a chiropractor, I’ve seen firsthand the transformative power of chiropractic care in alleviating this type of pain and addressing its root causes.

If you’re experiencing persistent or severe upper left back pain, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Chiropractic care can figure out what’s wrong and make a treatment plan just for you that will ease your pain and improve the health of your spine in the long run.

Remember, maintaining good posture, engaging in regular physical activity, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way in preventing future upper left back pain episodes. By taking a proactive approach to your spinal health, you can enjoy a life with less discomfort and greater mobility.


  1. Noonan, T. J., & Garrett, W. E. Jr. (1999). Muscle strain injury: Diagnosis and treatment. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 7(4), 262-269.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.). Osteoarthritis knee and modifiable cardiovascular risk factors. Retrieved from
  3. Maul I., Läubli T., Oliveri M., Krueger H. (2005) Effect of Upper-Extremity Strengthening Exercises on the Lumbar Strength, Disability and Pain of Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Study. European Spine Journal 14(6), 599-611. Available from:

Meet Dr. Craig Eymann, a dedicated chiropractor and yoga enthusiast with over two decades of expertise in spinal health, sports chiropractic, and personalized care, prioritizing misalignment correction for swift injury resolution.

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Dr. Craig Eymann

Musculoskeletal Injury Specialist

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Musculoskeletal Injury Specialist

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