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What does burning pain in the back indicate?

burning pain in the back
Medically reviewed by Dr. Mandy Liedeman

Key takeaways

  1. Back pain, including a burning sensation, is a widespread issue affecting millions of people. Statistics indicate a significant number of cases in the United States, making it a common reason for doctor visits and missed workdays.
  2. The burning sensation in the back can stem from various factors, such as muscle strain, stress, spinal misalignment, herniated discs, rheumatic conditions, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, and spinal tumors. Understanding these diverse causes is essential for effective treatment.
  3. Treatment for burning back pain involves a tailored approach, including medications (OTC pain relievers, muscle relaxants, corticosteroids, opioids, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants), physical therapy, surgery (for specific conditions like spinal tumors), and relaxation techniques. 
  4. Home remedies, such as hot or cold therapy, quality sleep, regular exercise, and lifestyle changes, can also contribute to relief. Seeking medical attention is crucial for persistent or severe pain and emergency situations indicated by specific symptoms.


Experiencing back pain with a burning sensation? It’s like a signal from your body, possibly due to various reasons—maybe an injury, inflammation, stress, or just life. Back pain is a big deal in the United States, causing many doctor visits and missed workdays. 

From persistent dull aches to sudden shooting pains, the nature of back pain is diverse. Understanding the root cause of that burning feeling in your upper back is vital to finding the proper fix.

It deserves attention, whether it’s an injury, inflammation, or an underlying health issue. Some cases might even need urgent care. 

Back pain is the second most common reason people see their healthcare providers, so getting professional advice is smart. So, understanding and tackling that burning sensation in the upper back? Totally worth it.

What are the common symptoms of burning pain in the back?

A burning sensation in the back can be identified in various ways, with symptoms reflecting the severity of the condition. Common indicators of back-burning sensation include: 

  • Reddish inflammation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tenderness
  • Numbness
  • Pains
  • Fever

Distinguishing burning pain from other back discomfort is essential. Often described as a prickly or stinging sensation or even likened to an electrical shock, it typically localizes between the shoulder blades or along the right or left side of the spine.

The complexity of a burning sensation extends beyond mere discomfort, potentially accompanied by additional symptoms like neck pain or radiating discomfort towards the arms, chest, or down the leg. 

This upper back pain can even impede your range of motion and overall mobility.

Termed medically as paresthesia, a burning sensation stands out from other pain types like dull, stabbing, or aching sensations. 

While commonly associated with extremities like hands and feet, it can also make its presence known in unexpected places, such as the upper back. 

Understanding and identifying these symptoms are crucial steps toward effective management and relief.

Do you feel like a cool minty sensation in your back?
Don’t ignore this burning pain in the back.

What causes a burning sensation in your back?

Experiencing a burning sensation in your back can be due to various causes, each indicating the severity of the problem. A few common triggers for that stinging, burning sensation in the back include:

1. Muscle Strain

Activities like lifting heavy objects, sudden movements, exercise, playing sports, or other back injuries can result in muscle strain. This strain can feel like a burning or stinging sensation in various areas of your back, including between your shoulder blades or on the right or left side of your spine. Sometimes, the pain may radiate to your chest, intensifying with repeated strain.

2. Stress

Stress can affect your body, causing physical as well as emotional distress. Factors like work, family, health issues, and financial pressures can trigger stress, leading to headaches and, yes, back pain. Muscle tension induced by stress can occur as a constant ache or burning sensation around your neck and between your shoulder blades.

3. Spinal Misalignment

A misalignment in your spine, caused by factors like falls, car accidents, improper posture, or repetitive motions, can contribute to a burning, stinging sensation in your upper back. This discomfort may be felt between your shoulder blades or in your neck.

4. Herniated Disc

Discs, the rubbery cushions between your vertebrae, can become herniated, causing nerve compression. While this compression causes lower back pain, you might also feel it in your upper back, with a burning sensation around your neck. Herniated discs can result from trauma, such as a fall or accident, or develop due to age-related wear and tear.

5. Rheumatic Conditions

Conditions like arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, and polymyalgia rheumatica, stemming from an overactive immune system, can cause chronic inflammatory responses. This inflammation may lead to stabbing, sharp pains, and a burning sensation in the upper back, around the neck, and in the spine. 

6. Bone Spurs

Bony growths known as bone spurs can form on the edges of bones due to joint damage. In the spine, these spurs can compress nerves, resulting in weakness, numbness, and a burning sensation in the upper back. They may also cause neck and chest pain.

7. Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal, exerts pressure on nerves, causing upper back and neck pain that can radiate to the chest.

8. Spinal Tumors

Tumors developing on the spine, whether benign or malignant, can evoke a stinging, burning sensation in the upper back, particularly between the shoulder blades. Depending on the tumor’s location, you may also experience pain in your neck, accompanied by other symptoms like muscle weakness and difficulty walking. 

Understanding these diverse causes is crucial for targeted treatment and relief.

Real-Life Experience

You start having L3-S1 pain in your 30s, which gets a bit worse till you reach 40. Things get trickier as you age, and core strength and posture problems keep getting complicated. The underlying problem is an accumulation of metabolic waste around the spine, creating knots that cause pain radiating to the trigger points. Your pain intensifies, and your mobility reduces, affecting your mental health. 

Your doctor diagnosed your pain as a degenerated disc and prescribed you gabapentin along with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, alternatively with a dosage that doesn’t affect your kidneys. Additionally, your doctor recommends Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy and ultrasound therapy to ease pain. They also recommend investing in an excellent bed to help with posture and pain. Along with medications and therapy, you drink a lot of water to flush out metabolic waste toxins from your body which causes flu-like symptoms. Finally, a good doctor and support from your loved ones help you regain the physical as well as mental strength to cope with this difficult situation.

How do you treat burning back pain?

As much as it is exhausting and painful, around 619 million people suffered lower back pain as of 2020 in the United States, with an expected rise to 843 million by 2050, as per World Health Organization statistics. Navigating the realm of burning back pain involves tailoring treatments to the underlying condition. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to address that persistent burning sensation in your upper back:

1. Medications

Over-the-counter options like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (ibuprofen or naproxen) sodium can help ease inflammation and alleviate the burning sensation. If OTC medications fall short, your doctor might prescribe alternatives such as:

These medications, whether oral or topical, can target various causes, including injuries, muscle sprains, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, arthritic conditions, and bone spurs.

2. Physical Therapy

Beyond medications, physical therapy becomes a valuable ally. It focuses on enhancing flexibility, strengthening your back, and improving your overall range of motion. Especially beneficial for conditions like herniated discs, spinal stenosis, arthritic conditions, and spinal misalignment.

3. Surgery

In cases of spinal tumors, surgical interventions may be recommended alongside radiation or chemotherapy. Nonsurgical options may not suffice for conditions like herniated discs, spinal stenosis, or bone spurs, making surgery necessary to relieve nerve compression and mitigate back pain symptoms.

4. Relaxation Techniques

Managing stress is key. Learning to cope, setting realistic expectations, knowing your limitations, incorporating physical activity, taking mental breaks, and ensuring adequate rest can significantly contribute to alleviating stress-induced upper back pain.

Considering potential triggers is vital. Investigate whether the burning sensation is linked to a known injury, insect bite, or sting. 

Symptoms like fever, cough, or additional body aches could indicate a viral infection. 

Conditions such as arachnoiditis, arthritis, back spasms, sedentary or overly active lifestyles, bone spurs, disc problems, sacroiliitis, shingles, and spinal misalignment are also potential contributors to burning back pain. 

Understanding the intricacies of burning back pain and getting personalized treatments for your specific condition is crucial for effective relief and improved quality of life.

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What medicine is good for a burning sensation in the back?

As per one study, 80% of people experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Addressing a burning sensation in your back involves considering various medications tailored to the underlying condition. Here’s a breakdown of medicines that can help manage burning back pain:

1. Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often recommended as the first line of defense due to fewer side effects than other medicines. It’s vital not to exceed 3 grams (3,000 mg) daily to prevent severe liver damage. If further relief is needed, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can be considered. Caution should be exercised, as high doses or prolonged use may lead to serious side effects.

2. Narcotic Pain Relievers

Narcotics or opioid pain relievers, reserved for severe pain unresponsive to other medications, provide short-term relief. Examples include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine, oxycodone (Oxycontin), and tramadol. These medications carry potential side effects such as drowsiness, impaired judgment, constipation, and addiction. They should be used cautiously under direct medical supervision.

3. Muscle Relaxants

Prescribed to alleviate back pain or muscle spasms, muscle relaxants like carisoprodol, cyclobenzaprine, diazepam, and methocarbamol work through the brain and spinal cord. Common side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and vomiting. Caution is advised due to their habit-forming nature.

4. Antidepressants

While typically used for depression, certain antidepressants can be effective in managing chronic low back pain. Examples include amitriptyline, desipramine, duloxetine, imipramine, and nortriptyline. These medications alter brain chemicals, changing the perception of pain and aiding sleep. Side effects may include dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, weight gain, and sexual problems.

5. Anti-seizure or Anticonvulsant Medicines

Originally designed for seizures, anticonvulsant medicines like carbamazepine, gabapentin, lamotrigine, pregabalin, and valproic acid can help with nerve damage-induced pain. They may also assist those whose back pain hampers daily activities. Side effects range from weight changes to upset stomach, drowsiness, and skin rashes.

It’s crucial to use these medications under the guidance of a healthcare provider. 

Abruptly stopping or altering doses without professional consultation can lead to adverse effects. 

The choice of medication depends on the specific condition causing the burning sensation, and a healthcare provider’s insight is invaluable in determining the most effective course of treatment.

What is the fastest home remedy for back pain?

When alleviating a burning sensation in your upper back, you might find relief through fast and effective home remedies. Consider these approaches for fast relief:

1. Hot or Cold Therapy

For acute pain resulting from injury or muscle strain, cold therapy can assist in reducing inflammation. Wrap an ice pack in a towel and gently apply it to your back and neck, but limit sessions to 20 minutes at a time. Conversely, if you’re dealing with chronic upper back pain, heat therapy could be more beneficial. It relaxes muscles and promotes blood circulation. Apply a heating pad for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

2. Prioritize Quality Sleep

Lack of sleep can exacerbate stress levels and intensify back pain. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night. Ensure your sleep environment is comfortable, and steer clear of stimulating activities before bedtime, such as exercising or engaging in video games.

3. Incorporate Regular Exercise

Boosting physical activity contributes to improved blood circulation, enhanced back strength, and reduced inflammation. Engage in 30 minutes of light physical activity at least 5 days a week to alleviate mild to moderate back pain.

4. Additional Home Remedies for Back Pain

Other remedies that can help relieve back pain include: 

  • Cold and Hot Packs: Alternate between cold and hot packs to relieve pain and stimulate blood flow for faster tissue or muscle healing.
  • Modify Physical Activities: Limit activities or exercises that trigger upper back pain, allowing your body time to recover.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Consider lifestyle adjustments such as quitting smoking, adopting a healthy, balanced diet, practicing relaxation techniques, and maintaining regular sleep patterns.

Implementing these home remedies offers quick relief and supports long-term well-being by addressing the root causes of upper back pain. Remember, consistency is key for optimal results.

Wrong exercises can worsen your back pain.
See a doctor for the treatment of burning back pain.

When should I worry about a burning sensation?

Knowing when to be concerned about a burning sensation in your upper back is crucial for timely intervention and effective treatment. Here are key indicators for seeking medical attention:

1. Persistent or Worsening Pain

If your upper back pain persists or becomes more severe despite home remedies and over-the-counter medications, it’s advisable to consult with an online doctor.

2. Emergency Situations

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Numbness or tingling in your legs, genitals, buttocks, or anus
  • Pain radiating down one or both of your legs
  • Blood or pus in your stool
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Weakness in your legs
  • Swelling in your back
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fever

Taking note of these signs ensures that you receive timely and appropriate medical attention. 

Diagnostic tests, such as X-rays or MRIs, can help identify the underlying cause of the pain, enabling your healthcare provider to recommend a practical course of treatment tailored to your specific condition.

FAQs about burning pain in the back

Is burning pain serious?

Burning pain in the back can be a symptom of nerve damage due to injury or infection. If you haven’t experienced any recent injury to the spine, consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis. 

How long does burning back pain last?

Burning back pain can last a few days to as long as two weeks, depending upon the severity of the condition. If your back pain is not going away, consult a doctor for treatment and diagnosis of the infection. 

What organ can cause upper back pain?

Upper back pain occurs as a result of injury to the spine. However, in some cases, it is unrelated to the backbone and can be due to kidney or pancreas issues spreading pain to the upper back. If the pain is sharp, stabbing, and continuous, consult a doctor for the diagnosis and treatment.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Gordon, Randy M. “Pain/Burning Sensation on Back.” Case Studies in Geriatric Primary Care & Multimorbidity Management-E-Book (2019): 316.
  • Moisset, Xavier, et al. “Co-occurrence of pain symptoms and somatosensory sensitivity in burning mouth syndrome: a systematic review.” PLoS One 11.9 (2016): e0163449.
  • Sheridan, R. L., et al. “Development of a pediatric burn pain and anxiety management program.” The Journal of burn care & rehabilitation 18.5 (1997): 455-459.
  • Cheppudira, Bopaiah, et al. “Curcumin: a novel therapeutic for burn pain and wound healing.” Expert opinion on investigational drugs 22.10 (2013): 1295-1303.
  • Ulmer, J. F. “Burn pain management: a guideline-based approach.” The Journal of burn care & rehabilitation 19.2 (1998): 151-160.

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