What Causes Upper Left Back Pain and When to see Doctor

Upper left back pain can be alarming, especially when you are not sure what is causing it. Upper back pain is less common than lower back pain or neck pain. A major concern about upper left back pain stems from is proximity to important structures in the upper back. 

Pain in the upper back, particularly on the left side, may feel like a dull ache or a stabbing pain in the upper back left side, that may be quite intense. Although the pain may settle soon, it may be a cause of concern because of the area of pain involved. The intensity and the nature of upper back pain vary from person to person, depending on what is causing it. 

What Causes Back Pain at Upper Left Side? 

To know what upper left back pain is, it is important to understand how the upper back moves and functions. 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 allow your lower back, hips, and your legs to move. 

The upper back is a segment in the middle that moves relatively less. Now 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 injury to the spine itself, while pain due to strain to the muscles is more common. The pain may 

What Symptoms Can You Experience During Upper Left Back Pain?

Left upper back pain may occur on either side of your back. One-sided pain occurs frequently among patients. Left upper back pain presents with one or more of the following symptoms:


You may feel generally the upper left back pain, under the shoulder blade, even till your arm. The pain may range from mild discomfort to excruciating levels. Sometimes the pain occurs on both sides of the upper back.


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

Pain during Movement

Pain or other symptoms may be felt during certain activities of daily living. Occasionally you may feel the pain that worsens on breathing heavily.

General Discomfort

Upper left back pain may be accompanied by a general sense of discomfort. As pain may be felt around the upper back in the neck, shoulder, mid-back, and arm, you may feel uneasy. 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. This is often seen among females with upper back pain post-menopause following osteoporosis.

Radiating Symptoms

Upper left back pain may also occur along with tingling or current like sensation reaching till the fingers. This happens when there is irritation of the nerve root in the upper back.


If the upper left back pain originates from increased pressure of nerves, it may present with numbness. Numbness occurs in the 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 able weakness. You may find yourself unable to perform routine tasks or the muscles of the upper back or arm may tire easily.

What are the reasons for Upper Left Back Pain?

Muscle injury from overuse

Muscles around the upper back may get strained on continuous or repetitive work and get injured. Activities like twisting, lifting heavy loads, and bending may put added stress over these structures.

Postural overload

Pain from continuous postures is common among those who have to maintain the same posture for long hours. The muscle is unequally loaded and undergoes 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 pain.

Traumatic injury

Traumatic injury due to an accident, fall, or sports activity may strain any of the structures in the upper back. This may lead to upper back pain.

Osteoporotic compression fractures

Osteoporosis 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 compression of the vertebral body and may give one-sided pain if it affects the nerve root exiting near it.

Diseases not related to the spine and other skeletal structures

Upper left back pain 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 be accompanied by a feeling of tightness, breathing difficulty, or weakness.


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

Other visceral organs

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

When Should you see a Doctor?

You should see a doctor to investigate the root cause of any pain occurring in the upper left back. 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 few conditions where you should take medical help.

  • 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 can sometimes irritate a nerve. Depending on which nerve a herniated disc irritates, this can result in bladder and/or bowel dysfunction as well as pain.

  • Loss of strength in your limbs

The nerves that pass through the lumbar spinal canal are compressed as it shrinks. Back 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 Upper Left Back Pain a Medical Emergency?

Upper left back pain may be considered a 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

Plan Consultation with Chiropractor at PhysioTattva for Upper Left Back Pain Treatment


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 any other health condition. 

When should I worry about upper back pain?

You should seek professional help when

  1. Pain remains ever 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 cause for 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 are also common
  4. Bad sleeping posture

Can your lungs hurt in your back?

Asthma or long-term lung infection can cause back pain. Condition like Pleurisy, in which thin layers of tissue which separate your lungs from your chest wall get inflamed, thus causing chest and back pain.

What causes sharp pain in upper left back?

Muscle strain is the most prevalent cause of upper back discomfort, which can range from a dull ache to a scorching sensation. Muscle strain is by far the most prevalent cause of mild to severe upper left back discomfort that 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, splenix 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 right away 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 itself as a one-sided ache in the arm, shoulder, and/or upper back. These symptoms are more likely to appear on the left side, although they might also appear on the right side or both sides.