Why Does the Middle of My Back Hurt?

Pain in the middle of the back is usually no cause for alarm. You may have strained a muscle or ligament while lifting a heavy object. Or, you may simply be feeling the effects of muscle tension from poor posture. 

However, if middle back pain sticks around for two weeks or longer, it’s time to seek medical care. In this article, we’ll discuss the possible causes of pain in the mid-back and when you should visit a physician for an evaluation. 

What is Middle Back Pain?

Middle back pain is pain stemming from the center of the back or spine. It may result from a spinal condition or an injury to the back muscles, tendons, or ligaments. In some cases, middle back pain results from problems with an internal organ. 

What Organs Can Cause Middle Back Pain?

The organs that can cause middle back pain are the kidneys, pancreas, and colon. 

Middle Back Pain from Kidney Problems

The kidneys are two organs located beneath the rib cage. Their primary function is to filter out waste from the blood, and then return the clean blood into your bloodstream. Kidney pain can affect the middle back, sides, stomach, or groin. 

Kidney problems that can cause middle back pain include:

  • Kidney stones

Kidney stones are lumps of accumulated minerals and compounds from the body. They can range in size from a grain of sand to a pea or even bigger, in rare cases. No matter the size of a kidney stone, it can cause sharp pain in the middle back, below the ribs. While small kidney stones can exit your body on their own, larger stones may block the urinary tract and require medical intervention. 

Along with mid-back pain, kidney stones can cause the following symptoms:

  • Blood in urine
  • Fever and chills
  • Cloudy and/or foul-smelling urine
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Vomiting 
  • Polycystic kidney disease

Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited condition in which cysts form on the kidneys. When the cysts expand, they enlarge the kidneys, often causing pain in the back or side. As this condition can also impact kidney function, early intervention is essential to slow its progression. 

  • Kidney infection

Kidney infections are usually caused by bacteria and can be serious, requiring immediate medical care. Along with back pain, a kidney infection can cause pain in the side or groin, fever, chills, burning while urinating, frequent urination, nausea, vomiting, and blood or pus in urine. 

  • Kidney injury

An injury or sudden trauma to the kidney, such as a blow while playing contact sports, can cause back pain from the kidneys. Along with this pain, a kidney injury can cause blood in urine and urine leakage from the kidneys. If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical care.  

  • Kidney cancer

Renal cell carcinoma is the most prevalent form of kidney cancer and generally develops in patients’ 60s or 70s. Symptoms of kidney cancer can include back pain or pressure in the back, a lump in the back or side, blood in urine, swollen legs and ankles, fatigue, and loss of appetite. 

Middle Back Pain from Pancreatic Conditions

Middle back pain is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer. Patients typically describe this pain as a dull pain, and it may also affect the upper abdomen. Back pain with pancreatic cancer can indicate that the tumor is pressing on the spine. 

Additionally, chronic pancreatitis can cause pain that starts in the middle or left side of the belly and radiates to the back. This pain is often described as a shooting pain or burning sensation. Chronic pancreatitis may be treated with pain medications, supplements, and lifestyle adjustments. 

Middle Back Pain from Colon Problems

Sometimes, colon cancer and fecal impaction can cause back pain. In cases of colon cancer, back pain typically only occurs if the tumor presses on the spinal cord or if the cancer spreads to the spine. 

Fecal impaction may cause back pain by creating pressure in the colon or rectum. With this condition, a dry piece of stool becomes stuck, potentially causing pain that radiates to the abdomen or back. 

When Should I Worry About Middle Back Pain?

You should worry about middle back pain if it lasts for longer than two weeks or is accompanied by:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden limb weakness
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence
  • Numbness and/or tingling in the buttocks, inner thighs, and groin (saddle anesthesia)

How Long Is Too Long for Middle Back Pain?

Middle back pain that lasts for longer than two weeks is considered too long to go without medical care.

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Visiting a physician for middle back pain that lasts longer than two weeks ensures that you receive a prompt diagnosis for any underlying condition that’s causing the pain. Early intervention can prevent serious complications and help you return to an active, pain-free lifestyle. 

Middle back pain that lasts more than three months is considered chronic and may require ongoing medical care and/or lifestyle adjustments for relief. 

How Do You Relieve Middle Back Pain?

You can relieve middle back pain with rest, pain medications, physical therapy, low-impact exercise, proper posture, and healthy lifestyle adjustments. 

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  • Resting immediately after injuring your back can help lessen pain and bring down inflammation. However, extended periods of bed rest can worsen back pain by increasing tension and stiffness. 
  • Pain medications can help you manage middle back pain while it heals. Anti-inflammatory medications can also help bring down swelling. 
  • Physical therapy encourages healing and can help you regain mobility after suffering from middle back pain. 
  • Low-impact exercise boosts circulation to the back and promotes mobility. 
  • Healthy lifestyle adjustments, like quitting smoking and reaching a healthy weight, support the body’s natural healing process. 

If you’re experiencing middle back pain from an organ problem, such as kidney stones, your physician will recommend the appropriate course of treatment. 

Middle back pain from a spinal condition, such as spinal stenosis, that doesn’t respond to conservative treatment may require surgery. Spinal surgery can alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves for symptom relief.