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8 Obvious Causes of Pain In Upper Back When Swallowing: Treatment & Precautions

Experiencing pain anywhere in the body is quite bothersome. And it becomes a nightmare when the pain is on your back. Back pain is quite a common phenomenon and 80% of Americans experience back pain sometime in their life.

Several reasons can cause back pain due to an array of underlying conditions. Most of them involve the spine. However, if you’re experiencing pain in upper back when swallowing, your gastrointestinal tract perhaps has some connection with it.

In this article, I will explore a few causes behind back pain and how you can take care of it.

Table of Content

Pain in the upper back

Pain in the upper back while swallowing is not uncommon. However, the type of pain you experience might be subjective. Patients usually complain of sharp pain in the upper back while swallowing, especially between the shoulder blades.

They also complain that they feel the food and drinks going down while they swallow. It makes them feel as if there is some form of obstruction. The pain is usually short and gradually subsides.

pain in upper back when swallowing

Upper back pain may be accompanied by a gassy stomach, abdominal distention, discomfort, indigestion, etc. The pain may spread through your neck and shoulders, causing some form of rigidity.

All of these symptoms may indicate various underlying causes. Proper tests and examinations need to be performed to pinpoint the diagnosis. Remember to pay a visit to your general physician in case your condition deteriorates.

Your doctor would be able to advise what’s best for you. However, it’s good to be knowledgeable about your condition to make an informed decision when it’s necessary.

Common causes of upper back pain when swallowing

Your condition might not have a single factor working behind it. The symptoms might lead to several causes and health conditions. Let’s look at a few conditions that can cause pain in upper back when swallowing.

Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Pain in the abdomen, diarrhea, vomiting, etc., are symptoms indicating gastrointestinal problems. This often leads to Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease or GERD. It is characterized by acid reflux in the stomach which causes pain and a burning sensation commonly known as heartburn.

If you have GERD, then it might lead to having back pain while swallowing. The acid reflux can cause a burning sensation on your oesophageal lining. This, in turn, may result in upper back pain.

Peptic Ulcer

Peptic ulcers are sores or open wounds in your stomach and intestine. They cause pain when the ulcers come in contact with the stomach acid or food material. The ulcers can often cause referred pain.

Referred pain is a type of pain in which a particular organ is expressed somewhere else in the body. You can feel referred pain due to peptic ulcers in the upper back or between your shoulder blades. The symptoms of peptic ulcers include bloating, gas build-up, heartburn, pain in the abdomen, and pain in upper back when swallowing.

Esophageal Motility Disorders

Esophageal motility disorder is a condition where the muscles of your esophagus, aka food pipe, are not working correctly. They’re supposed to send down food to your stomach. But when the muscle function is hampered, it might lead to discomfort and, finally, pain.

According to researchers, these types of disorders are not that common. However, if you have this condition, then you might experience chest pain and difficulty in swallowing.

These disorders might include the hypercontractile esophagus. It’s a condition where the muscles in the esophagus go through contractions or spasms. There is another condition called achalasia.

It is usually characterized by the esophageal sphincter not being able to open or close. Excessive use of opioids might also lead to esophageal motility disorders. Your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes or medications for tackling the condition.

Heart Problems

Back pain may be a sign of heart problems. Crushing pain around the chest might spread to the back. This might be elevated while swallowing causing upper back pain. If you’re experiencing chest pain, nausea, bouts of vomiting, pain in your neck spreading to your left arm, and lightheadedness, then these might be a sign of a heart attack.

pain in upper back when swallowing

You must immediately seek medical help if you’re experiencing multiple symptoms together. The sooner you get help, the lesser the chance of significant damage.

Gallbladder Problems

Gallbladder problems often tend to cause referred pain to the upper back. The pain is mainly concentrated between the shoulder blades. It can be accompanied by pain in the upper right abdomen along with nausea. Fat-rich food might aggravate the pain after taking a meal.

Crohn’s Disease

This is a type of condition leading to Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It causes irritation and pain in the intestines. The symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, indigestion, diarrhea, weight loss, etc.

The inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease can spread in different locations of the digestive tract. This can, in turn, cause pain in the upper back while swallowing.

Poor posture

Poor posture is one of the leading causes of back pain across the globe. If you don’t sit straight or hunch down for extended periods, you might have upper back pain. If you usually sit with a  lousy posture during meals, you might also experience back pain.

Bulging Vertebral Discs

Vertebras are the tiny bones that are stacked in your back to make up your spine. Between each pair of vertebrae, there is a semisolid, almost jelly-like disc. Its job is to avoid friction and maintain the shape of your spine.

With age, the vertebral discs might degrade. It might lead to something called Degenerative Disc Disease. This causes the discs to bulge out and cause referred pain to your upper back. Other symptoms might include a tingling sensation in your arms and legs, pain in the arms.

Extension or flexion of the neck may aggravate the pain.

Treatment and remedies

To treat your pain, a proper diagnosis is necessary. The doctor must identify the underlying cause behind your pain through appropriate tests. Only then can your doctor suggest you the same treatment.

Back pain is usually treated with muscle relaxants and pain meds. Ice packs can help with the soreness. Proper rest is also necessary to reduce pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs are typically prescribed to tackle inflammation.

Musculoskeletal problems are usually treated with physiotherapy. Physiotherapy teaches you several stretching and flexibility exercises. It would certainly help with your posture and also diminish the pain.

Pain caused due to esophageal infection needs medication. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for this. Ulcers can also be treated with antibiotics in case they are caused due to conditions. Drugs are also provided to reduce acid production to tackle GERD and ulcers.


There can be several underlying conditions that can lead to pain in upper back when swallowing. However, if necessary precautions are taken, you can avoid a number of those conditions.

If your back pain is caused due to a musculoskeletal problem, you must focus on keeping your back muscles flexible and strong. You can do that with regular exercise. Yoga, physiotherapy, aerobics, swimming, etc., are several excellent options.

pain in upper back when swallowing

You can control heartburn and acid reflux by avoiding certain foods. Oily and fatty food needs to be limited. You may also need to cut down on spicy food to tackle conditions like GERD. Reducing alcohol conditions also helps prevent these conditions.

When to call your doctor

If the pain in your upper back is persistent for weeks, it is better to see your doctor. They’ll probably run some tests to pinpoint the underlying cause.

If you have a tingling sensation in your arms and legs along with the pain, it may indicate irritation of the nerves. This needs medical attention. Change in bowel habits and color is also concerning.

Frequent vomiting, loss of weight, and appetite are also symptoms that might need your doctor’s attention. Your doctor will treat you with medication, invasive or non-invasive procedures based on the underlying cause.


What causes upper back pain when swallowing?

There can be many underlying causes for upper back pain when swallowing. GERD, bad posture, Acid reflux, esophageal irritation are some of them. Proper tests need to be done to pinpoint the cause of your pain.

When should I worry about upper back pain?

If your pain is sharp rather than dull and is persistent for a long time, then it might indicate damage to muscle and internal organs. If the pain is radiating to your arms and legs, then your nerves might be affected. Visit your doctor as soon as possible if you have such symptoms.

Can you feel esophageal pain in your back?

Yes, it is possible to feel pain in your upper back for esophageal problems. The pain might also indicate cardiac or aortal disorders.

Final words

Back pain, in general, is an annoying condition. If you’re feeling pain in upper back when swallowing, then it can be a matter of concern. It’s best to pay a visit to your doctor, who would be able to provide you with proper advice and treatment.

However, a healthy lifestyle, proper diet, and regular exercise contribute immensely to avoiding most of these conditions. Remember to keep an eye out for adverse symptoms. With a little bit of care and awareness, you can easily manage back pain.

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