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Middle back pain

Overview of middle back pain

Middle back pain is pain or discomfort in the area between your upper and lower back (also known as the thoracic spine). Middle back pain can be mild or severe, short-lived, or longer-lasting. You may feel it all the time or on and off. Middle back pain is not as common as lower back pain because the spine is not as mobile in this section.

The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebrae, discs that separate the bones from each other and absorb shock, and muscles and ligaments that hold the spine together.

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The nature of middle back pain varies. Symptoms can come on suddenly, or gradually over time. Signs and symptoms of middle back pain include:

  • Pain that is sharp, stabbing, dull, achy, or cramping
  • Tight or stiff muscles

If your back pain also includes weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arms, legs, stomach, or chest, or you’ve lost bladder control, seek medical attention immediately.


Middle back pain has many potential causes, with one of the most common being a sprain or strain. These injuries usually result from sudden, awkward movements during sports and other strenuous activities. This kind of pain may come on quickly but often goes away within a few days.

Other causes of middle back pain involve the spine. This includes spinal arthritis, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), and degenerated, ruptured, or herniated discs. Osteoporosis, or thinning bones, can also cause middle back pain. Sometimes other medical conditions, such as indigestion, pancreatitis, aortic dissection, or kidney stones, can cause pain that is felt in the middle back.

Risk factors

Back pain is a widely experienced condition and has a broad range of risk factors. Anyone can experience it, including children, but it’s more common in older populations. Risk factors for middle back pain include:

  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • Weak muscles in your back or abdomen
  • Poor lifting techniques
  • Smoking


To avoid back pain or to keep it from getting worse, there are some lifestyle changes that you can make:

  • Build strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back exercises condition your muscles to work together while maintaining flexibility in your hips and aligning your pelvis with your back.
  • Exercise. Low-impact activities, such as swimming or walking, increase your endurance and strength.
  • Keep at a healthy weight. Excess weight strains your back muscles, so losing weight can ease this pain.
  • Quit smoking.

It is also essential to keep a neutral spine when you are standing, sitting, and lifting. Avoid twisting or straining your back, or slouching. If you need to stand or sit for an extended period of time, practice maintaining good posture, and change your position every half-hour, at least. When lifting, bend only at your knees, not in your spine.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.