There are several possible reasons for having acute or chronic upper back pain. Some people experience discomfort in their upper back from a muscle strain or physical injury, while others may experience it as a symptom of an underlying condition. In some cases, back pain can occur along with severe abdominal pain originating from the upper right quadrant of the body.
So why do you experience upper right quadrant back pain? Your upper back is part of the thoracic spine which starts from the base of your neck and runs down to the abdomen which contains important internal organs such as the pancreas, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and kidney. Any condition that affects these organs, such as liver disease, gallbladder issues, and pancreatitis, can cause pain in the upper right quadrant of your back and abdomen.
Upper back pain is one of the most common causes of decreased mobility and quality of life in adults. Although most cases of upper back problems could be relieved with pain medications and other home remedies, some individuals suffer from persistent discomfort that’s accompanied by abdominal or stomach pain.
It’s common to think that pain in the abdomen and upper back are two different things since they aren’t remotely close to each other in the body. However, there’s a term called referred pain which pertains to pain that’s felt in one part of the body and originates from a disease, inflammation, or injury in another.
If you feel discomfort in the upper right quadrant of your back, it’s most likely referred to as pain caused by problems that occur in the area of your abdomen. To better understand why it happens, here’s an overview of the anatomy of the upper back and abdomen:
Back pain is a common disorder that affects many adults in the world. In fact, studies show that upper back pain has a prevalence rate of at least 59.5%, while lower back pain occurs in at least 86.3% of individuals at any point in their lifetime.
The severity of upper back pain can vary from a sharp pain to a dull or throbbing ache. It can also be described as pain that radiates throughout your whole upper back and causes muscle tightness or stiffness. In some cases, the pain can be localized to the specific upper right quadrant which could indicate the presence of a health condition or disease affecting the organs in your abdomen.
Most mild cases of upper right quadrant back pain can resolve on its own or can be managed with some pain relievers and medications. But if the pain doesn’t subside and persists for weeks along with other symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention. You might require specialized treatment to address the medical conditions affecting your abdomen.
Every person experiences upper back pain differently but one thing is the same — it’s extremely debilitating and can greatly impact your mobility and limit your ability to perform your tasks. Some cases of upper back pain manifest themselves as a burning sensation or throbbing ache that spreads across the upper back region.
There are also individuals who experience muscle tightness, stiffness, cramping, and headaches with their back pain. If you have underlying abdominal conditions, you may also notice discomfort in the area of the upper right quadrant. Here’s what you may feel if you have upper right quadrant back pain:
There’s a total of 12 small bones in your thoracic spine and each of them is connected to a pair of ribs. Its attachment to the rib cage helps stabilize the upper back and supports a good posture. You might feel upper back pain at the bottom of your ribs due to inflammation or weakening of the cartilage that holds the structures together.
Upper back and rib pain may also be caused by a bad injury due to an accident or severe fall. This irritates the joints in the spine which can lead to radiating pain on your upper back and under the ribs.
Sometimes, patients with upper back and rib pain also notice sudden sharpness in their lungs when they take a deep breath. This might indicate a possible pulmonary embolism so it’s suggested to see a healthcare provider if you feel shortness of breath with your upper back pain under the ribs.
Since the thoracic spine ends just right at the abdomen, it’s also possible to experience abdominal pain and upper back pain at the same time. The pain may be characterized as a sudden stabbing sensation or a dull ache that radiates from the upper right quadrant of the abdomen to the back. It may also appear intermittently or persist for several minutes before subsiding.
You may also experience other uncomfortable symptoms such as:
Upper right quadrant back pain may also cause an aching or burning feeling between your shoulder blades. This is because your shoulder muscles are directly connected to the neck and upper back muscles. That’s why any injury to the upper right back region may cause pain and limit your neck and shoulder movements.
Some patients with upper right quadrant pain may also notice that their abdomen feels tender or sore to the touch. This can be a sign of inflammation in any of the organs in the upper right quadrant. It can also be a response to acute pressure on the upper abdomen caused by another issue, such as twisted or blocked organs.
Upper back pain that comes with unusual abdominal discomfort and symptoms isn’t something that should be overlooked. While it’s not particularly life-threatening, it may still be an indicator of a more serious health disorder that needs to be properly addressed with the right treatment. Here are some of the common diseases that can cause acute abdominal pain and upper back pain:
One of the main organs included in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen is the kidney. Your lifestyle and diet directly affect your kidney and if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a buildup of unwanted chemicals in the urinary tract, you’re at risk of developing kidney disease. Some of the types of kidney issues that can lead to upper right quadrant pain are kidney stone, infection, urinary tract infection, and kidney cancer.
If you have a kidney problem, you may also experience the following symptoms along with abdominal and upper right back pain:
This is a common issue with the gallbladder that occurs from having too much cholesterol in the bile. Gallstones are basically hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can measure from 0.5 cm up to 5 cm in diameter. Some people may develop only one gallstone, while others have multiple gallstones at the same time.
These deposits can get stuck in the bile duct and cause a blockage which can lead to severe pain in the upper right abdomen. It can also cause upper back and shoulder pain and, sometimes, nausea or vomiting.
When an infection occurs in the gallbladder, it can cause a sudden swelling or inflammation and result in what’s called acute cholecystitis. Infections typically occur when one or multiple gallstones block the gallbladder and cause bile to get stagnant and acquire bacteria. Its symptoms usually include severe abdominal pain, tenderness, nausea, vomiting, fever, and upper back and right shoulder pain.
This condition is common among pregnant women who are at least 20 weeks into their pregnancy. It’s a complication that occurs from having high blood pressure, high protein levels in the urine, or other organ damage. It’s also thought to be caused by the failure of blood vessels to supply oxygen and nutrients to the placenta which results in abnormalities in the mother’s blood pressure. Common symptoms of preeclampsia include:
The head of the pancreas can also be found in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. This organ helps produce enzymes that aid with digestion and support insulin production to regulate blood sugar levels. When inflammation occurs in this organ, it results in pancreatitis. This condition can be categorized into two main kinds:
The appendix is a small-shaped pouch located at the lower right portion of the abdomen and sits between the large and small intestine. Appendicitis occurs from an inflammation or infection in the lining of the appendix. This typically causes pain in the lower abdomen, sudden aches in the upper back, loss of appetite, abdominal bloating, and constipation or diarrhea.
The aorta is the most important vessel that transports blood from the heart to the other parts of the body. When the walls of the aorta expand and extend into the abdomen, it causes an aneurysm.
Most cases of abdominal aortic aneurysm are present without any noticeable symptoms. However, when aneurysms become enlarged, it can result in chest pain, sudden abdominal discomfort, and upper backache, and it may sometimes lead to a rupture or internal bleeding.
Also known as an intestinal ischemic syndrome, this condition occurs when blood flow to the bowel or gastrointestinal system is blocked or decreased. It’s usually caused by a blockage in the blood vessel walls or sometimes the presence of blood clots or aneurysms in the artery. Mesenteric ischemia can be acute or chronic depending on the onset and duration of its symptoms.
Upper right quadrant back pain can also be a symptom of gastrointestinal issues. Having an upset stomach, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, or peptic ulcer can cause abdominal bloating, severe pain, flatulence, nausea, or vomiting along with upper back pain. Some gastrointestinal problems can resolve on their own, while others, such as peptic ulcers, may require medical attention.
The liver is an organ that sits under the rib cage on the upper right side of the abdomen. Several factors can cause liver diseases such as alcohol consumption, obesity, and infections. If you develop hepatitis (liver inflammation), liver abscess, or liver cancer, you may experience pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen and back, tenderness, fatigue, jaundice, and loss of appetite.
You should never let the symptoms of your upper back and severe abdominal pain go unchecked. Whether it’s from an injury, accident, or a possible health condition, you should consult a doctor immediately if the pain is starting to affect your everyday activities. It’s also important to closely monitor your condition and report to your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:
Your physician will conduct a thorough physical examination where they palpate your abdomen. They will examine for the presence of an abdominal mass and check how you’re responding to the touch. They may also request other medical tests such as a CT scan, ultrasound, blood exams, and urine tests to rule out other conditions. Your treatment will depend on the results of their diagnosis.
It can be quite concerning to experience upper abdominal and upper back pain at the same time. However, with a trusted medical team, you can receive an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan to provide relief for your condition.
Here at Gramercy Pain Center, we have a team of board-certified physicians and trained staff who can provide quality care and treatment for your upper right quadrant and back pain. We offer a variety of pain management solutions to help you recover from your symptoms. Contact us today to schedule your first consultation or fill out the form on our website.