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 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. 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. 

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

Termed medically as paresthesia, a burning sensation stands out from other pain types like dull, stabbing, or aching sensations. Common indicators of back-burning sensation include: 

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

Often described as a prickly or stinging sensation or similar 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 to symptoms like neck pain or radiating discomfort towards the arms, chest, or down the leg. 

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. Stress-induced muscle tension 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 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 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. These spurs can compress nerves in the spine, 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. 

9. Sciatica (Lumbar Radiculopathy)

Sciatica, or lumbar radiculopathy, results from nerve compression, typically by a herniated disc. The pain travels along the sciatic nerve, extending from the lower back through the hips and buttocks down to one leg. Symptoms range from sharp, burning pain to numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness. 

10. Lumbar Radiculitis

Like sciatica, lumbar radiculitis stems from a herniated disc affecting lower spine nerves. This condition manifests as burning back pain, extending to the buttocks and legs. 

11. Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Shingles, caused by the varicella-zoster virus, presents as a painful rash on one side of the body or face, typically affecting individuals over 50. Symptoms include burning pain, numbness, tingling, a red rash, and blisters. 

12. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain in various parts of the body, including the back, arms, legs, and abdomen. Accompanying symptoms may include sleep disturbances, fatigue, numbness, and bloating. 

13. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

MS, an autoimmune disease, targets the myelin covering nerve fibers, disrupting communication between the brain and body. Symptoms range from muscle spasms and mobility issues to cognitive challenges and neuropathic pain. While there is no cure, a combination of medication, rehabilitation, and mental health support can improve quality of life.

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

Burning sensation on the top or upper back

Various factors can contribute to a burning sensation in the upper back, from stress and poor posture to conditions like spinal stenosis or tumors. Consulting a medical professional is essential to identify the root cause. The pain can be in the right or left side of the upper back, each specifying a different cause as 

Burning Upper Right Back Pain

Causes of a burning sensation in the upper right back may include back injury, sciatica, or herniated or bulging discs. Seek medical attention if the pain persists after a week or if it is accompanied by symptoms like muscle weakness, bladder issues, tingling, or numbness.

Burning Upper Left Back Pain

Muscle strain is a common cause of burning sensation in the upper left back, resulting from overuse or sudden movements. Immediate medical assistance is necessary if the pain is severe or if it is accompanied by symptoms like numbness, weakness, severe headaches, nausea, or difficulty walking, as they may indicate more serious underlying issues.

Burning sensation in the middle of the back

Various factors, including muscle sprains, strains, spasms, weak mid-back muscles, poor posture, tight neck and mid-back, spinal misalignment, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and pinched nerves, can lead to a burning sensation in the middle of the back. Consulting a medical professional is advisable to identify the specific cause.

Burning pain in the lower back

Lumbar radiculitis, often associated with arthritis or a herniated disc in the spine, is a common cause of burning and other pain sensations in the lower back. These structural issues can irritate the nerves exiting the spine, resulting in pain in the lower back, buttocks, and legs, similar to sciatica. Seeking medical evaluation is recommended for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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 and mental strength to cope with this difficult situation.

How do you relieve 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 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:

You might find relief through fast and effective home remedies when alleviating a burning sensation in your upper back. Consider these fast-relieving approaches:

  • Hot or Cold Therapy: Use ice packs for acute pain and inflammation and heating pads for chronic pain to relax muscles and improve circulation.
  • Prioritize Quality Sleep: Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep in a comfortable environment to reduce stress and alleviate back pain.
  • Incorporate Regular Exercise: Engage in 30 minutes of light activity at least five days a week to strengthen the back and improve circulation.
  • Modify Physical Activities: Limit activities that exacerbate back pain to allow for recovery.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Consider quitting smoking, maintaining a balanced diet, practicing relaxation techniques, and keeping regular sleep patterns to support overall well-being and reduce back pain.
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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. 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 pain perception and aiding sleep. Side effects may include dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, weight gain, and sexual problems.

5. Anti-seizure or Anticonvulsant Medicines

Initially 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.

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 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 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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