Middle back pain: Causes and relief

Video my back hurts like a cat

There are many possible causes of middle back pain, ranging from injury to poor posture.

Potential causes include:


There are several different forms of arthritis, some of which can affect the back.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common degenerative joint disease that affects 32.5 million adults in the United States. OA causes the ends of bones to rub together, leading to pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine. Symptoms include pain and stiffness in the back. Over time, it causes the vertebrae to fuse, impacting posture and mobility.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis that typically affects joints in the hands, feet, and legs. However, it can also affect spinal joints and other parts of the body. It occurs when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks joint tissue.

Fractured vertebrae

A fracture or broken bone can occur in any vertebrae in the middle back due to a sports injury, automobile crash, or fall.

Extreme deterioration of the spine over time, such as from osteoarthritis, can also cause a fractured vertebra.

Symptoms include intense pain that gets worse with movement. If the injury affects the spinal cord, it can lead to tingling, numbness, and incontinence. Fractures require immediate medical treatment.

Herniated discs

Spinal discs are soft tissue formations between each vertebra. They contain liquid and act as shock-absorbing cushions, and aid in spinal mobility.

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Discs can rupture or bulge outward. This is known as a herniated or slipped disc and puts pressure on the surrounding nerves.

A herniated disk in the middle back does not always cause symptoms, but it may result in pain, tingling, or numbness. Spinal discs can also rupture completely.

Kidney problems

The most common causes of kidney pain are infections and kidney stones. These may cause pain that feels as though it radiates through a person’s back.

Additional symptoms include:

  • fever
  • difficulty urinating
  • pain while urinating
  • chills
  • nausea and vomiting

Learn more about the differences between kidney pain and back pain here.

Lifestyle factors

A lack of exercise leads to weak muscles, which can contribute to pain. People who exercise improper lifting techniques can also experience pain in the back.

Research suggests that people who smoke tobacco also have an increased risk of developing chronic back pain.

Muscle strain or sprain

Repeatedly lifting heavy objects or carrying items improperly can cause the muscles and ligaments in the back to stretch or tear.

Overweight and obesity

Being overweight or obese puts additional strain on the back muscles, bones, and other structures.

Higher body weight and a lack of physical activity can increase a person’s risk of general back pain.

More specifically, obesity has strong associations with an increase in lower back pain.


Osteoporosis is a type of bone disease that results in brittle bones.

Osteoporosis can cause a decrease in bone mineral density and bone mass. It can also lead to a change in the quality of bone structure. These changes can cause bones to weaken, increasing the risk of fractures.

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Approximately 10 million U.S. adults over 50 have osteoporosis. A further 43.3 million people have low bone density, which may put them at risk of the disease.

People with osteoporosis in the back can experience severe back pain due to strains or compression fractures.

Poor posture

Incorrect posture while sitting or standing is a leading cause of back pain. Slouching increases pressure on the spine and leads to strained muscles as they try to maintain balance.

Mental health conditions

People who experience depression or anxiety tend to be at increased risk of developing back pain.


Scoliosis causes the spine to curve sideways. It leads to an uneven distribution of weight throughout the back and may cause middle back pain.

Living with scoliosis may cause muscle imbalances in the back, contributing to back pain.


If a tumor grows in the middle back, it can affect spinal alignment and pressure the nearby nerves, muscles, and ligaments, resulting in pain.