Back pain is a common complaint and is often related to bone and muscle problems. Upper right back pain can be experienced as sharp, stabbing pain or can be dull, generalized pain in the upper right back region. Upper right back involves the area from the right side of the neck, right shoulder, arms and shoulder blades extending to the lower part of the ribs on the right side. Any pain in this area can be either related to bone and muscle but sometimes it can be a result of a disorder with an internal organ.

Causes of Upper Right Back Pain

The type of pain experienced in the upper right back varies from person to person and depends on the underlying cause. Upper right back pain can be of acute type or may last longer, making it chronic pain.

Causes of Upper Right Back Pain

Some of the common causes of upper right back pain include:


Injuries to the structures in the upper right back region can cause upper right back pain.

  • Injury to the bones include fracture of ribs, bones or spinal vertebrae on the right side can cause upper right back pain.
  • Injury to muscles, ligaments, cartilages and other soft tissues on the right side of the neck, right shoulder joint, upper and middle back.
  • Sports injuries causing muscle pull, bone and soft tissue injuries can also cause pain in the upper right back.
  • Cuts, wounds or abrasions on the upper right back area.

Musculoskeletal Causes of Upper Right Back Pain

Conditions affecting joints and muscles are often the cause of upper right back pain.

  • Awkward body movements, bad posture or improper ways of twisting and lifting can lead to pain in the upper right back.
  • Muscle pulls and strains from lifting heavy weights, overuse from repetitive movements and overstretching.
  • Conditions affecting the ribs, disorders of joints, like osteoarthritisrheumatoid arthritis affecting the shoulder joint, vertebrae and other associated joints in the area of upper right back.
  • Fibromyalgiamyofascial pain and other muscle pain related conditions causing pain of different muscle groups in the neck, right shoulder and upper right back region.
  • Disorders of the spine, intervertebral disc protrusion, damage to the disc, compression of nerves can also cause upper right back pain.

Nerve Conditions that Can Cause Upper Right Back Pain

  • Compressed or pinched nerve from spinal problems, tensed muscles causing upper right back pain, right arms and hands.
  • Conditions affecting nerves of the upper right back or right arm, stroke, etc. causes pain, numbness or weakness of the upper right back pain.
  • Infections like shingles, when nerve supplying upper right back is affected.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Gastrointestinal disorders can cause pain in the abdomen, upper right part of the abdomen or sometimes even generalized stomach pain. A common cause includes referred pain due to gall stones causing upper right back pain. Formation of stones in the gallbladder can create an acute condition called cholecystitis, which is acute inflammation of the gall bladder. It causes severe pain under right ribs and may extend to the right upper back and right shoulder blades. It is often accompanied with nausea, vomiting, yellowish discoloration of skin and loss of appetite. Other conditions affecting the liver, gallbladder and abdominal organs can cause upper right back pain.

Causes like indigestion, bloating, peptic ulcers, complication or perforation of peptic ulcers, etc. too can cause pain in middle and upper right back area. Associated gastric complaints like nausea, vomiting, changes in eating and bowel patterns, burning in stomach, etc. may be present.

Other Causes of Upper Right Back Pain:

Other conditions that can cause upper right back pain include:

  • Respiratory conditions or lung infections can cause chest pain and upper right back pain. Commonly associated with cough, difficulty in breathing and sometimes fever.
  • Skin conditions like boils, abscesses, stings, bites etc. can cause pain in upper right back. It is often visible to the eye and accompanied with itching, burning sensation.
  • Conditions related to urinary system like kidney stones, etc. affecting mainly the right side, can cause pain in the upper and middle back or flank region, which may radiate to the groin.
  • Women may occasionally experience menstrual pain or pain related to gynecological conditions in upper right back and under lower right ribs.
  • Cardiac conditions and chest pain can sometimes extend to right upper back, neck and jaw. This needs immediate medical care.

Rarely certain infections, tumors or cancers in the area, spread of certain types of cancers can be the cause of upper right back pain.

Symptoms of Upper Right Back Pain

Symptoms of upper right back pain presents according to the underlying cause. It can cause constant or intermittent pain in upper right back, which can be sharp, dull or sudden in nature. Pain may be accompanied with symptoms of difficulty in movement of back, shoulder or arms. Pain may worsen on coughing, moving, breathing, eating, etc. Nerve related causes of upper right back pain often present with symptoms of burning pain, numbness and tingling in arms. Bone and muscle causes have a history of injury or strain and may be associated with bruising, tensed muscles, etc.

Symptoms of Upper Right Back Pain

Diagnosis of Upper Right Back Pain

Diagnosis is made with history taking and physical examination. Recent history of falls, accidents or injuries, stings, etc. prompt the possibility of injury. Blood investigations are done to detect infections, inflammation and other possible conditions.

X-rays, bones scans and MRI are performed to find bone, muscle, ligament and soft tissue damage and lung and abdominal conditions. Ultrasonography of abdomen helps to reveal the presence of gallstones. Nerve conduction studies, ECG and other cardiac related investigations may be performed, if necessary.

Treatment of Upper Right Back Pain

Upper right back pain caused due to injuries, fractures, muscle and ligament 1strains may be treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE formula). Hot and cold compresses can be used as appropriate to ease the pain in the right upper back. Activity may be restricted for initial period to promote healing, further which, therapeutic exercises are prescribed. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines are given.

Acute upper right back pain condition due to gallstones may be observed with medicines and surgical removal of gall bladder may be considered. Infections are treated with appropriate medicines. Cardiac causes and other serious conditions need immediate medical attention and hospitalization.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: May 3, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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