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What Causes Upper Left Back Pain and When to see Doctor

Upper left back shoulder pain can be alarming, especially when you are not sure what is causing it and how to reach out to a doctor for your health concerns. Upper back or shoulder pain is less common than lower back or neck pain. A primary medical concern about treating the spine and upper left back pain stems from its proximity to important structures, such as muscles in the upper back.

Pain in the upper back, that is, the neck and shoulder, particularly on the left side, may feel like a dull ache or a stabbing pain in the muscles of the upper back left side that may be pretty intense. Although the pain may settle soon, it may be a health concern because of the area of pain involved, most importantly, its proximity to the spine. The intensity and the nature of sharp pain in upper back vary from person to person, depending on what is causing it.

What causes sharp pain in the upper back?

To know what upper left back shoulder pain is, it is important to understand how the upper back muscles move and function. Imagine the bones of your spine stacked one on top of the other. Each vertebra is cushioned in between by a disc, which absorbs shock from movement. The higher few segments allow your neck, shoulders, and arms to move. The lower few segments qualify your lower back, hips, and your legs to move.

The upper back muscle is a segment in the middle that moves relatively less. This area is more stable than the other segments and is also attached to the ribs. The muscles around the upper work along with the vertebrae when this area moves to perform any activity. So there is a much lower chance of health injury to the spine itself, while sharp pain in upper back due to strain to the muscles is more common.

What health symptoms can you feel during upper left back shoulder pain?

Left upper back, neck, shoulder muscle pain and sharp pain in upper back may occur on either side of your back. Doctors say one-sided pain frequently occurs among patients seeking treatment. Left upper back pain presents with one or more of the following medical symptoms:


You may feel the upper left back pain, mainly under the shoulder blade, even to your arm. The neck and shoulder muscle pain may range from mild discomfort to excruciating. Sometimes the pain occurs on both sides of the spine and upper back.


You may notice general stiffness of the muscles around your upper back after prolonged rest. This stiffness may also be noticeable after continuous activities or unhealthy postures.

Pain during muscle movement

Pain in the neck and shoulder muscles or other medical symptoms may be felt during certain activities of daily living. Occasionally you may feel a sharp pain in the upper back that worsens on breathing heavily.

General discomfort

Upper left back pain may accompany a general sense of health discomfort. You may feel uneasy when you feel pain around the upper back in the neck, shoulder, mid-back, and arm. The area may also feel tender to any touch.

Postural changes

Many times upper left back pain may exhibit along with postural changes in the upper back. Doctors say this is often seen among females with sharp pain in upper back at post-menopause following osteoporosis.

Radiating symptoms

Upper left back, neck, and shoulder muscle pain may also occur along with tingling or current-like sensation reaching the fingers. This happens when the nerve root is irritated in the upper back.


If the upper left back pain originates from increased pressure of nerves in the spine area, it may present with numbness. Numbness occurs in the muscle area that is supplied by the compressed nerve and may occur anywhere between the upper back and the fingers.


Often increased pressure over a nerve may cause fatigue and weakness. You may find yourself unable to perform routine tasks, or the upper back or arm muscles may tire easily.

What are the reasons for this sharp, stabbing pain in the upper back?

Muscle injury from overuse

Muscles around the upper back, neck, and shoulder may get strained on continuous or repetitive work and get injured. Activities like twisting, lifting heavy loads, and bending may stress these structures, so much so that the condition may require medical treatment.

Postural overload

Pain from continuous unhealthy postures is common among those who maintain the same posture for long hours. The neck and shoulder muscles are unequally loaded and undergo tremendous strain, often causing semi-permanent or permanent changes to posture.

Disc herniation

Pain in either or both sides of the upper back may originate due to slipped disc or disc herniation. The pressure over the intervertebral disc increases, damaging the disc and giving rise to neck, shoulder muscle pain and stabbing pain in upper back.

Traumatic injury

Traumatic medical health injury due to an accident, fall, or sports activity may strain upper back or spine structures. This may lead to upper back pain.

Osteoporotic compression fractures

Osteoporosis is a medical condition that causes loss of mineralization in bones. This makes bones fragile and one of the most common sites for osteoporotic fractures in the thoracic vertebrae in the upper or mid-back. The fracture is caused by vertebral body compression and may give one-sided pain if it affects the nerve root exiting near it. It calls for immediate medical help and treatment.

Diseases not related to the spine and other skeletal structures

Upper left back, neck, shoulder and stabbing pain in upper back may also occur due to causes not related to musculoskeletal structures. These are the conditions causing pain in the left upper back area:

Heart Attack

Heart attack or myocardial infarction may cause pain in the left upper back, chest, left arm, shoulder, and jaw. The pain location, though usually on the left side, may even occur on the right side. It may accompany health symptoms such as tightness, breathing difficulty, or weakness.


Tumours in and around the spine area in the upper back may lead to stabbing pain in upper back. However, pain due to a tumour will often show signs related to the growth of the tumour.

Other visceral organs

Pain from other visceral organs, such as the lungs, kidneys, or pancreas, may be felt in the upper back. This may be due to infection, tumour, or medical abnormalities in any of these organs.

When should you see a doctor and reach out for medical help and treatment?

You should see a doctor to investigate the root cause of pain in the upper left back, neck, and shoulders. A physician may rule out any disease not related to musculoskeletal causes. You can then undergo treatment for left upper back pain from a physiotherapist. Here are a few medical conditions where you should take medical help and start treatment.

  • Back discomfort resulting in fever

A fever and a tender, warm area on the back could be symptoms of a spine infection.

  • Post-traumatic back pain

People suffering from PTSD are more likely to experience pain-related disability. In one study, approximately 50% of volunteer firefighters with PTSD experienced pain (primarily back pain), compared to only about 20% of firefighters without PTSD.

  • Inability to control urine or bowel movement

A bulge in a lower back intervertebral disc or blade can sometimes irritate a nerve. Depending on which nerve a herniated disc irritates, this can result in bladder and/or bowel dysfunction and pain.

  • Loss of strength in your limbs

The nerves that pass through the lumbar spinal canal are compressed as it shrinks. Back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, leg pain, and leg paralysis may result from this squeezing.

  • Back pain resulting in unexplained weight loss

Weight-related pressure puts a lot of strain on the lower back. When one carries additional weight on their body, especially around their midsection, it pulls their pelvis forward.

When is the stabbing upper left back shoulder pain a medical emergency?

Upper left back, neck, and shoulder pain may be considered a health or medical emergency if you see any of the following signs:

  • When pain is accompanied by numbness and weakness
  • When pain is accompanied by breathing difficulty and tightness around the chest
  • When pain is accompanied by bowel or bladder incontinence


What causes sharp pain in the upper left back?

Pain in the upper left back can be caused due to poor posture, muscle injuries, heart or other health conditions.

When should I worry about upper back pain?

You should seek professional medical help from a doctor when:

  1. Pain remains even after proper rest and exercise
  2. Pain gets intense
  3. Visible signs of muscle injury

What causes upper back pain in females?

Some of the major causes of back pain in females:

  1. Bad posture is one of the major reasons. This eventually leads to structural change in the spine.
  2. Back pain during pregnancy is common.
  3. Muscle injury or Muscle overuse is also common.
  4. Bad sleeping posture.

Can your lungs hurt in your back?

Asthma or long-term lung infection can cause sharp, stabbing back pain. Conditions like pleurisy, in which thin layers of tissue that separate your lungs from your chest wall get inflamed, also cause chest and back pain.

What causes sharp, stabbing muscle pain in the upper left back?

Muscle strain is the most prevalent cause of upper back discomfort, ranging from a dull ache to a scorching sensation. Muscle strain is the most pervasive cause of mild to severe upper left back, neck, and shoulder discomfort that, doctors say, has recently developed. Possible causes are:

  • Muscle strain
  • Herniated disc
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal stenosis

What organ is on the upper left side of your back?

The stomach, spleen, left portion of the liver, main body of the pancreas, left portion of the kidney, adrenal glands, splenic flexure of the colon, and bottom part of the colon are all organs in the left upper quadrant.

When should I worry about upper left back pain?

Seek medical help and treatment from a doctor immediately if your upper back left pain is accompanied by numbness, weakness, severe headache, nausea, difficulty walking, bowel/bladder incontinence, or other disturbing symptoms.

Can upper left back pain be heart-related?

Most heart attacks cause chest pain, although this is not always the case. Heart attack symptoms might manifest as a one-sided ache in the arm, shoulder, and/or upper back. These health symptoms are more likely to appear on the left side, although they might also appear on the right side or both sides.

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