Physiotherapy for Back Pain Articles
Dealing with Upper Left Back Pain: A Comprehensive Guide

Dealing with Upper Left Back Pain: A Comprehensive Guide

Upper left back pain can be a discomforting and debilitating condition that affects many individuals. It can hinder your daily activities, affect your quality of life, and even cause significant distress, especially in the working population which is the most at risk of this condition.

It was determined that 60 to 90% of people experienced back pain at some point in their lives, which can be economically costly due to possible healthcare costs and absence from work.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various aspects of upper left back pain, from understanding the anatomy of your back to diagnosing the condition and exploring treatment options.

Understanding the Anatomy of Your Back

The back is a complex structure that consists of several components working together to support the body and maintain posture. When these components are functioning properly, they allow for efficient movement, protect the spinal cord, and maintain good posture. However, when there is an imbalance, injury, or strain in any of these components, it can lead to back pain and other discomforts.

The vertebrae provide a strong, protective structure for the spinal cord. Muscles, ligaments, and tendons work in harmony to provide stability, mobility, and support to the spine. Specifically:

Vertebrae and Spinal Cord

The back is made up of a series of small bones called vertebrae, which are stacked on top of each other. These vertebrae create the spinal column, providing support and protection to the spinal cord.

Of the five regions of the vertebral column, the thoracic spine and the lumbar spine are the ones that support the back. The thoracic region consists of 12 vertebrae and is located in the upper back. It supports the ribcage and protects the heart and lungs. The lumbar region is made up of five vertebrae and is located in the lower back. It supports the weight of the upper body and provides flexibility for movements such as bending and twisting.

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs through the hollow space in the vertebrae. It carries signals between the brain and the rest of the body, allowing for movement and sensation.

Muscles, Ligaments, and Tendons

The back has numerous muscles that play a crucial role in supporting the spine and maintaining posture. These muscles include the erector spinae, which runs along the length of the spine, and the rhomboids and trapezius, which help stabilize the shoulder blades.

Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissues that connect bones. In the back, ligaments provide stability and support to the vertebrae, helping to prevent excessive movement and maintain proper alignment.

Tendons are strong, flexible cords that attach muscles to bones. In the back, tendons connect the muscles to the vertebrae, allowing for movement and providing stability.

How Does an Upper Left Back Pain Feel Like?

Upper left back pain can vary in intensity and sensation from person to person, depending on the underlying cause. However, the following symptoms are commonly experienced by people who suffer from upper back pain:

Dull, achy pain

Sharp, stabbing sensations

Pain localised in a specific area

Pain radiating to other parts of the body, such as the shoulder or arm

Pain accompanied by stiffness, limited range of motion, or muscle spasms

What are the Common Possible Causes of Upper Left Back Pain?

Upper left back pain can be caused by a variety of factors. Some common causes include muscle strain or sprain caused by poor posture or overuse, herniated discs, and spinal abnormalities like scoliosis. Other potential causes may include foraminal stenosis, vertebral compression fracture, and underlying medical conditions affecting the internal organs, like heart attack and kidney stones.

Muscle Strain or Sprain

Upper left back pain can be caused by muscle strain or sprain, which are often connected to overuse and poor posture.

When the muscles in the upper back are overused or strained, they can become inflamed and painful. This can occur due to repetitive motions, such as performing an improper lifting technique or performing repetitive tasks, which put excessive stress on the muscles.

Poor posture, on the other hand, especially slouching or hunching over for extended periods, can also contribute to muscle strain and pain. This is because poor posture puts the muscles in the upper back in a compromised position, leading to muscle imbalances and increased strain.

Herniated Disc

An upper left back pain may be caused by a herniated disc. This condition occurs when the disc between the vertebrae in the upper back becomes damaged or ruptured, causing the inner gel-like material to leak out and put pressure on nearby nerves.

This pressure can result in pain, weakness, and numbness in the back. The pain is often sharp and worsens with activity. In severe cases, it can lead to sensory disturbances and even paralysis of the legs and bowel dysfunction.


Upper left back pain can be caused by scoliosis due to the curvature of the spine. In adults with scoliosis, the abnormal curvature of the spine, where the spine curves sideways, can put pressure on the facet joints and spinal discs in the upper back (thoracic) region. This pressure on the nerves can lead to irritation and pain.

Foraminal Stenosis

Foraminal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spine, including the upper back region. When the foraminal openings in the vertebrae narrow or become blocked in the upper left back area, it can compress the spinal nerves, leading to pain, numbness, weakness, and loss of control in that region. This compression of the nerves can result in upper left back pain.

Vertebral Compression Fracture

Compression fractures are small breaks or collapses of the vertebrae in the spine, often associated with osteoporosis or trauma. When a vertebra in the upper left region of the spine is affected, it can result in localized pain.

Medical Conditions Affecting the Internal Organs

Medical conditions affecting internal organs like heart attack and kidney stones can cause upper left back pain through various mechanisms.

Heart Attack: Upper left back pain should be watched out for as it may be indicative of a medical emergency like a heart attack, especially in people at risk for this condition. This pain called referred pain, is one of the telltale heart attack symptoms, which is a radiating pain caused by the proximity of the heart to the thoracic spine.

Kidney Stones: Kidney stones can also lead to upper left back pain if the stone gets lodged in the left ureter, causing obstruction and stretching of the renal capsule. Additionally, the presence of kidney stones has been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, which may manifest as upper left back pain.

Diagnosing an Upper Left Back Pain

To diagnose upper left back pain, healthcare professionals employ a combination of history taking, physical exams, and additional tests. This comprehensive approach allows for a thorough evaluation of the condition, enabling an accurate diagnosis and suitable medical treatment for your condition.

History Taking and Physical Exams

During the evaluation, healthcare providers will assess the signs and symptoms associated with your upper left back pain. They will inquire about the nature of the pain, its duration, and any accompanying symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness. The physician may also inquire about your medical history, lifestyle factors, and any recent injuries or activities that may have contributed to the pain.

Following the initial assessment, a detailed history-taking and physical examination will be conducted. This involves evaluating your posture, range of motion, and muscle strength. The physician may also perform specific orthopaedic tests to pinpoint the exact location and cause of your upper left back pain. These tests may involve bending, twisting, or applying pressure to certain areas of your back.

Additional Tests

In some cases, additional tests may be necessary to further evaluate your upper left back pain. These tests may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans, or blood tests. These diagnostic tools can help identify underlying structural abnormalities, such as herniated discs or spinal fractures, as well as rule out other potential causes.

Caring For and Treating Upper Left Back Pain

Once a diagnosis has been established, appropriate care and treatment can be initiated to alleviate the pain and promote healing. The treatment plan for upper left back pain may involve a combination of home remedies, over-the-counter medication, and physical therapy.

Home Remedies

In many cases, upper left back pain can be effectively managed at home with simple remedies. Here are some home remedies that you may employ for minor upper back pain relief:

Stretching: Gentle stretching exercises can help alleviate muscle tension and improve flexibility in the upper back.

Heat and cold therapy: Applying heat packs or cold packs to the affected area can reduce inflammation, soothe pain, and promote healing.

Rest and movement balance: Alternating rest periods with easy movement and stretches can help prevent muscle stiffness and promote healing.

Massage therapy: Trying massage therapy or using therapeutic devices at home can help relax muscles and alleviate pain.

Over-the-Counter Medication

If home remedies do not provide sufficient relief, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may be recommended for pain management.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be taken orally, applied topically, or administered through injection, which works by blocking enzymes involved in producing chemicals that cause inflammation and pain. They're commonly recommended for inflammatory back and neck pain ranging from mild to severe.

However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment, follow recommended dosages, and seek medical attention if the pain persists or worsens when using NSAIDs.

Physical Therapy

For more severe or chronic cases of upper left back pain, physical therapy may be beneficial. A qualified physical therapist can develop a customized exercise program to strengthen the muscles in your back, improve flexibility, and correct postural imbalances. Physical therapy may also include techniques such as massage, manual therapy, or electrical stimulation to alleviate pain and promote healing.


Physiotherapy for back pain is another option for this medical condition. Physiotherapists can determine the best treatment plan for your specific case, and will either use passive or active treatments to address the underlying causes of pain.

Passive treatments include manual therapy, hot and cold packs, dry needling/acupuncture, and ultrasound/modalities. Manual therapy involves massage and other hands-on techniques to help relax muscles and improve circulation. Ultrasound/modalities use ultrasonic waves to stimulate affected muscles and help alleviate cramping, spasming, and inflammation.

Active treatments involve exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist to promote strength, healing, and mobility. These exercises help to restore full, pain-free movement and prevent further injuries.

Phoenix Rehab Singapore offers holistic solutions to help relieve pain and injury in different parts of the body. We're a team of healthcare providers composed of physiotherapists, chiropractors, podiatrists, and the like, guaranteed to provide quality care to our clients.

When Should You Call a Medical Provider About Your Upper Left Back Pain?

While many cases of upper back pain can be managed at home, there are certain situations in which it is essential to seek immediate medical attention. You should consult and seek medical help from a healthcare provider if:

The pain does not improve with home remedies or over-the-counter medication.

The pain is severe and debilitating, making it difficult to perform daily activities.

The pain is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss, difficulty breathing, and fever.

The pain is the result of a traumatic injury or accident.

The pain persists for more than a few weeks or is recurring.

Preventing an Upper Left Back Pain

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to upper left back pain. By adopting healthy habits and incorporating certain preventive measures into your daily routine, you can reduce the risk of developing this condition. Here are some tips for preventing upper left back pain:

Maintain good posture while sitting, standing, and lifting heavy objects.

Engage in regular exercise to strengthen your back muscles and improve flexibility.

Avoid prolonged periods of inactivity or sitting in one position for too long.

Lift heavy objects properly, using your legs instead of your back.

Practice stress management techniques, as stress can contribute to muscle tension and pain.

Final Words

Upper left back pain can be a debilitating condition that affects many individuals. It can be caused by various factors, such as vertebral compression fractures, medical conditions affecting internal organs, or muscle strains.

Understanding the underlying causes and seeking appropriate medical attention is crucial for effective pain management and recovery. While home remedies such as rest, heat and cold therapy, and over-the-counter pain relievers can provide temporary relief, it's always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

Take charge of your health and take the necessary steps to alleviate upper left back pain today.

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