Pinched Nerve in the Upper Back: Causes and Treatments

Mar 21, 2022

Everyone has experienced that tingling sensation of a pinched nerve every now and again. You may have been sitting in one place for a long period of time or with your legs crossed and noticed your foot started to “fall asleep.” Did you know that the uncomfortable pins and needles sensation that occurs is actually a pinched nerve? There are millions of nerves inside the body that can be aggravated, injured, or damaged in some type of way. When a nerve is under a lot of pressure, it can cause it to misfire. If you have a pinched nerve in your upper back, it can also cause uncomfortable symptoms in your back, neck, shoulders, and arms. In order to experience lasting back pain relief, you first need to find out what is causing your pain and discomfort. Here’s everything you need to know about a pinched nerve in the upper back.

What Is a Pinched Nerve?

The most common example of a pinched nerve is when the nerve is compressed or pressured. This is typically caused by surrounding bone or tissue that squeezes or compresses a nearby nerve. When too much pressure is applied to a nerve, it can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness. A pinched nerve can occur anywhere in the body, and a mild case of a pinched nerve will typically resolve within a few days to a week. However, a badly damaged or compressed pinched nerve may require more treatment and intervention by a doctor. Your spinal column houses the central nervous system and there are many spinal nerve roots that connect with other nerves that help control different aspects of the body. Nerves communicate to other parts of the body, so a pinched nerve in your upper back can cause symptoms of pain, tingling, and numbness elsewhere in the body.

5 Causes of a Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve can occur for a number of reasons and anywhere in the body. Here are five common causes of a pinched nerve, especially in your spine and upper back.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc is one of the most common causes of a pinched nerve in your upper back. In between each vertebra in your spine is what is known as a spinal disc. Spinal discs offer cushion and shock absorption to the vertebrae in your spine. Each spinal disc has a tough outer shell with a gel-like nucleus inside. If the tough outer layer of the spinal disc cracks or tears, the inner nucleus can push through and aggravate nearby nerves. When the nucleus of a spinal disc aggravates a nearby nerve in your spinal column, this is an example of a herniated disc causing a pinched nerve. A herniated disc can occur due to a sudden injury to the spine or general wear and tear as you age.

Bone Spurs

Bone spurs can also cause a pinched nerve in the spine. Bone spurs are small, abnormal growths of bone that are typically caused by osteoarthritis or other trauma to a bone. If bone spurs develop on your spine, they can start to pinch or compress nearby nerves, leading to a pinched nerve. Bone spurs are also called osteophytes and are made up of extra bone. Bone spurs are common around joints, like the vertebrae in your spine.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause a pinched nerve. This type of arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes the tissues of the joints to become inflamed. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation along your spine that can then pressure or aggravate a nearby spinal nerve. As the joints deteriorate due to general wear and tear on the body or from inflammation, nearby nerves can also be affected. Rheumatoid arthritis can directly impact your nervous system, and the inflammation and swelling of soft tissues can compress nerves.

Car Accident Injury

There are several types of car accident injuries that can lead to a pinched nerve in your upper back. Your spine may undergo a lot of pressure and stress during a car accident. The force of impact can cause your body to jolt and jostle around, which can aggravate or damage your spine, spinal discs, and nerves. A sudden blow to your upper back can cause misalignments in the spine that lead to a pinched nerve. Inflammation and swelling caused by a car accident injury can also aggravate nearby nerves.

Sports Injury

A sports injury can also lead to a pinched nerve in your upper back. High impact sports like football, wrestling, and hockey are more commonly associated with spine and nerve injuries. However, you can also suffer a pinched nerve and its painful symptoms from a sudden injury or from overuse. Participating regularly in a sport or activity can cause you to engage in repetitive motions of the joints. These repetitive movements can lead to swelling and inflammation, aggravating joint tissues and even causing a pinched nerve.

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve

The most common symptoms of a pinched nerve include pain, tingling, and numbness. A pins and needles sensation is a common experience with a pinched nerve. You may feel a sharp and stabbing pain with certain movements that aggravate or compress a nearby nerve. A pinched nerve can also cause a dull, aching pain that may occur throughout your day as the nerve continues to be compressed or aggravated. The pain of a pinched nerve can also radiate elsewhere in the body. Pain, tingling, and numbness can occur in your neck, shoulder, and arm with a pinched nerve in the upper back. A pinched nerve in your upper back can also lead to muscle weakness in muscles that are controlled by the affected nerve. This can cause you to feel stiffer and make certain movements like turning or bending uncomfortable. Certain movements may also aggravate your symptoms and make them worse.

What Does a Pinched Nerve in the Upper Back Feel Like?

A pinched nerve in your upper back will typically cause pain and discomfort where the nerve is located. If the pinched nerve is located around the spine in your upper back, then you may notice a sharp, stabbing pain when you try to twist, turn, or bend. A pinched nerve in your upper back can also lead to that feeling of pins and needles in your shoulder, through your arm, and in your hands. Some of the nerves that affect your shoulder, arm, and hand movements are located in your upper back. You may feel like your shoulder or hand has fallen asleep due to a pinched nerve in your upper back. The spine of your upper back is known as the thoracic spine, which is where the largest vertebrae and spinal discs are located.

How to Diagnose a Pinched Nerve in the Upper Back

Your doctor will take several steps to confirm the diagnosis of a pinched nerve.


First, your doctor will want to know what symptoms you have been experiencing. Be sure to tell your doctor when you first started noticing the symptoms and if a sudden injury or issue seems to have triggered the pain and discomfort. Your doctor will also want to know if any certain movements or activities have made your pinched nerve symptoms worse.

Medical History

Your medical history can also help inform the diagnosis of a pinched nerve. For example, a history of arthritis in your family may affect your chances of developing arthritis in the future and experiencing uncomfortable symptoms like a pinched nerve.

Physical Exam

Your doctor will also want to perform a physical exam of your upper back. They may look for issues with posture that could be contributing to a pinched nerve. If your strength or mobility is impacted by a pinched nerve, a physical exam can also help your doctor assess your range of motion.

Diagnostic Imaging

Diagnostic imaging tools like a CT scan or MRI can also be helpful in diagnosing a pinched nerve in the upper back. A CT scan is an advanced type of X-ray that takes detailed images of your bones, joints, and soft tissues. An MRI can also provide your doctor with a highly detailed view of your internal structures, including the discs in your spinal column. An ultrasound could also be used to identify a pinched nerve in your upper back.

Nerve Tests

Certain nerve tests like a nerve conduction study or an electromyography (EMG) can also help assess the health and functioning of your nerves. A neve test will check to see how your nerves and muscles respond to certain stimuli. This can also help to detect injured or damaged nerves.

Treatment Options for a Pinched Nerve in the Upper Back

Do pinched nerves go away on their own? In the event that it doesn’t, there are many treatment options for a pinched nerve in the upper back. These treatment options will depend on the location and severity of the pinched nerve.


Resting and avoiding activities that put stress and strain on your upper back are key to reducing pinched nerve symptoms. If you have a pinched nerve in your upper back, then you should avoid lifting heavy objects and any strenuous activities like pushing or pulling.

Reduce Inflammation

Reducing inflammation can also help relieve compression on a nearby nerve. Whether inflammation is caused by a recent injury or health condition like arthritis, the goal is to reduce swelling and inflammation. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may be able to help with reducing inflammation. Your doctor may also recommend less invasive options to reduce inflammation.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care has also been known to assist with relieving a pinched nerve in the upper back. If you are dealing with pinched nerve symptoms, a chiropractor can identify what area of the spine is affected. Your chiropractor will identify the root cause of your pinched nerve, including any misalignments in the spine that may be contributing to your pain and discomfort. Chiropractic adjustments are gentle and safe techniques to resolve misalignments in the spine that may be compressing nearby nerves. Your chiropractor can also provide you with additional treatment options like therapeutic massage, ultrasound, and ways to experience lasting relief from a pinched nerve in your upper back.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can also help you to exercise and strengthen the muscles that support your upper back. When your upper back is strong, it is better able to keep the pressure off of the nerves. Poor posture is a common example of why you might experience uncomfortable neck and upper back symptoms. Toning muscles in the area can help provide greater support for your spine and nervous system. A physical therapist will walk you through stretches and exercises that help you gain strength, improve your mobility, and reduce your pain. Going to physical therapy can also help you learn how to perform certain activities with better techniques to prevent and avoid future injuries or issues.


In some cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to help treat a severely pinched nerve. If you have a severe disc herniation or large bone spur, then the only option may be to reduce the disruption through surgery. Surgery is typically viewed as a last resort, and your doctor will talk to you about other conservative and non-invasive options first.

If you are experiencing the pain and discomfort of a pinched nerve in your upper back, then visit AICA Orthopedics in Lithia Springs. Our team of doctors includes neurologists, chiropractors, and physical therapists who can work with you and give you personalized care and attention. We offer comprehensive approaches to treatment, and you can enjoy the convenience of all our doctors and necessary exams located in one office. AICA Orthopedics in Lithia Springs has diagnostic imaging tools like X-rays, CT scans, and an MRI machine so you can do everything in one convenient location. Visit AICA Orthopedics in Lithia Springs to learn more about the treatment options we offer for a pinched nerve in the upper back. We offer individualized approaches to back pain relief so you can get the treatment and care you need.


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