Musculoskeletal system

Inflamed Upper Back Muscles: Causes, 8 symptoms, Diagnosis and 11 Treatments

Inflamed Upper Back muscles are one of the leading causes/symptoms of Back Pain.  Many people suffer from inflammation or pain in upper back muscles; it is said that 1 out of 33 persons suffer from swelling in the upper back. Pain and inflammation in the back usually go side by side.

A person complaining of back pain tends to have this pain in the back of the chest area or the upper abdomen. It includes the shoulder area and the area behind the rib cage.

Upper back is connected with a lot of muscles, tendons and the ligaments, inflammation in them cause a lot of pain and discomfort to the person. The upper back consists of following muscles:

  • Deltoid,
  • Teres major,
  • Teres minor,
  • Infraspinatus,
  • Supraspinatus
  • and subscapularis muscles.

These muscles start from scapula to humerus and have a significant role on in the movement of shoulder joints. The trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles connect the upper limb to the vertebral column. Both the muscles trapezius and dorsi are attached to the spine.

Causes of inflammation in upper back muscles:

inflamed upper back muscles
Inflamed upper back muscles
Image source:

There could be many reasons which lead to inflammation in the upper back. Some of the primary reasons include:

  • Poor sitting, sleeping or walking posture
  • Trauma/accident causing a sudden pressure or jerk to the upper back muscles
  • Sports injury
  • Other Medical conditions Include:
  • Slip disc
  • Arthritis
  • Spinal degeneration
  • Spondylitis
  • Kidney stones
  • Bone Cancer etc.

Most of the time, the reason is the wrong postures. Sometimes the reason could also be overuse of the muscles or any strenuous activity which could be heavy exercise or lifting of some heavyweight. Due to this the collagen tissues which are binding the upper back muscles to the bone becomes inflamed causing the inflammation in upper back muscles.

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Upper back inflammation or pain could also be due to many lifestyle-related factors:

  • No exercise or exercising without guidance in a wrong way
  • Sitting or sleeping in an incorrect posture
  • Working in a highly stressful environment
  • Overweight etc.

One of the primary cause of upper back muscles pain stiffness and inflammation is sitting for long hours in front of a computer with wrong posture (protruding neck or bent spine)

Symptoms of Inflammation and pain in upper back muscles:

  • Milder pain accompanied by headaches in some cases
  • Muscle stiffness or tightness
  • Pain in the shoulder blades
  • Increase in pain during rest position at the time of sleeping, sitting, driving etc.
  • Redness of the affected area
  • Joint pain or pain in the upper back
  • Shoulder joint mobility
  • Inflammation may also be associated with some other symptoms like Fever, headache, decreased appetite, tiredness etc.

Some more severe symptoms might also be there which could mean a severe problem. These include numbness in arms and hands, week ness in the legs etc.

Diagnosis of inflammation in upper back muscles includes:

Patients past:

The physician will investigate if the patient had this upper back muscles inflammation issues in the past as well and would ask questions like what is his job. Is he involved in any daily physical activity or has he done any massive strenuous action that has caused injury and inflammation to the back?

A Doctor would check persons sitting, standing and walking technique to see if there is any discomfort while doing these.

A Doctor may also check if there is any swelling, redness or warm skin due to inflammation of the upper back muscles.

Treatment of Upper back inflammation:

In many of the cases upper back muscles inflammation subsides by itself after taking rest, but in some instances, you need to make necessary steps.

Home remedies for treating upper back inflammation:

A lot of times changing your lifestyle or following some simple measures at home can help provide relief from inflammation:


Sometimes taking bed rest or lying in a relaxing position helps decrease the soreness/inflammation of the back.

Walking straight with a healthy posture can also help in reducing pain and inflammation in the upper back


Exercising or stretching for the upper body can provide relief from upper back inflammation and pain in upper back. Before performing any activity, it is essential to consult your doctor and ask for a set of exercise that would help your upper back.

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In case you face any pain or discomfort after performing any exercise, you should immediately contact your doctor before getting worse. Some of the exercises that can help get relief from upper back inflammation include:

Pectoralis stretch – Standing with both hands above head for 15-30 seconds helps in getting relief from pain and upper back inflammation

Thoracic extension – Sitting on a chair and clasping both hands towards the back and moving the head towards the ceiling

Arm slide on the wall – It is standing against the wall and moving or sliding your arms on the wall in the upward direction

Scapular squeeze – While sitting or standing and arms on the sides, trying to squeeze the shoulders together and holding it for 5 seconds

Similarly, many other exercises can be done to get relief from back pain and inflammation. These include Thoracic stretch, Quadruped arm, and leg raise, rowing exercise etc.

However, all these exercises should be consulted with the doctor and in case of any pain or discomfort while doing exercise; a doctor should be consulted.

Applying Pack:

Back treatment using hot and cold water helps in providing relief to the upper back.

Hot Water treatment:

Bathing in hot water provides comfort to the sore upper back muscles by increasing the blood and oxygen to the affected area

Application of warm bag:

How water bag can also be used for the treatment of inflamed upper back.

Application of cold pack:

Cold packs also provide relief in some instances. But the cold packs should not be applied directly to the back but should be wrapped in a cloth or towel as applying directly might cause cold burn.

Applying cold and hot pack alternatively can also help get relief from upper back inflammation in some cases.

Sleep Position:

Sometimes sleeping position might be the cause of upper back muscle inflammation or pain, sometimes correcting the posture can help in treatment. Also, particular sleeping position helps in stretching the upper back muscles which might also provide relief from upper back inflammation.

Sports Injury accidental:

In case you are aware that the inflammation or the pain in the upper back is due to an injury that occurred while playing some sport or an accident. In such cases, it is essential to consult a doctor or physiotherapist.

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A physiotherapist might help you and tell the stretches and exercises that would help the inflamed upper back. You can quickly perform these exercises at home without much guidance on a daily basis till you get complete relief.

Other treatments for Upper inflamed back include:


It is a Chinese technique of curing inflammation/pain using needles. Acupuncture needs cure or treatment by a specialist who knows the method of doing it

Massage therapy:

Massage is another technique which helps in providing relief to the patient. Massaging can be done using both hands or using specialised instruments. It is advisable to take the help of the therapist while undergoing this treatment.

It is important to refer a certified therapist for this as a wrong technique might lead to more harm than gain. Massaging helps in increasing the blood circulation to the affected part and increased oxygen. Massaging can also help get rid of acids that leads to inflammation and upper back muscle pain.

Anti-inflammatory medicines:

In case of no relief using these techniques, Anti-inflammatory drugs like Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used as a treatment option. The patient can try some of the Over the counter medicines (OTC) available for treatment includes Ibuprofen. Muscle relaxants or other topical applications can also be used to treat upper back muscles inflammation.

In case the Inflammation/ pain is prolonged, or if there is inflammation in the trapezius muscle. It might be due to some other medical disorder which needs to be diagnosed and treated.

Prevention of upper back swelling or pain:

Lifestyle changes or modifications:

Majority of times this happens because of practising wrong postures while, sitting, walking, sleeping etc. One should use ergonomically designed chairs and instruments while working.

One should make sure to keep the arms at 90 degrees, back and the legs should also be at 90 degrees. Similarly, knees should be at 90 degrees. One should avoid sitting for long hours while working.


One should also try to reduce stress levels at work, as stress is found associated with back pain and inflammation of upper back muscles in some instances

Sleeping posture:

One should also work in the sleeping position. One should avoid sudden jerks to the body. You should avoid waking up suddenly from a reclining position


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