Is Upper Left Back Pain a Sign of a Heart Attack?

Causes of upper left back pain

What is the upper back?

The Upper back consists of the region below the neck (cervical spine) and above the low back (lumbar spine). As the spine is surrounded by the ribs (rib cage), the range of motion in the upper back is typically limited. Your spine is like a tree trunk that holds you upright and enables you to stand without falling over. It essentially carries the weight of your upper body, therefore maintaining a healthy spine is very critical.

Upper Back pain affects everyone differently, a bit like hot sauce.

Mild pain, such as a twinge or a slight ache, can be easily ignored but is still felt. Just like mild hot sauce from an eatery, I won’t name it.

Medium/moderate pain which is a bit more intense than mild. You definitely feel something, especially when taking in deep breaths or performing strenuous activities.

Finally, Hot and Spicy, the pain is so intense it almost feels like a burn. It can be triggered by carrying out the simplest tasks and can be quite debilitating sometimes.

Some common symptoms of Upper back pain include:

  • Stiffness
  • Pain
  • Tenderness to touch

Also known as thoracic back pain, upper back pain generally occurs between the shoulder blades or the neck and waist.

There are various causes of Upper back pain ranging from mild to serious causes. In addition, certain conditions can make the pain more severe.

Mild causes which generally result from Musculoskeletal strain include:

  • Sudden injury (whiplash following an accident)
  • Straining a muscle whilst working out in the gym
  • Overworking your muscles when performing repetitive movements
  • Obesity in some cases
  • Women with large breasts may also experience upper back pain
  • Poor posture could also be a reason for upper back pain
  • Lifting heavy objects incorrectly
  • Wearing a backpack that is stuffed to the brim
  • Spending long periods of time on your phone, texting or on social media

Other causes of these conditions include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Slipped disc

Studies show that only 1 in 5 people report having upper back pain and that compared to lower back pain, upper back pain is not as common.1 Obese women with larger breasts are more likely to experience Upper back pain due to the thoracic strain caused by the weight.

What is a heart attack?

According to the American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs when your heart muscle is starved of oxygen. This usually happens as a result of the coronary arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart becoming narrowed, thus decreasing the amount of blood flow reaching the heart. Arteries can become blocked or narrowed from a build-up of fatty deposits and cholesterol known as plaque, also known as Atherosclerosis. The heart requires oxygen to survive, therefore a lack of it can be very life-threatening. The medical term is given when the heart muscle is starved of oxygen is known as ischaemia (Iss-Kee-Muh). When damage occurs to the heart muscle as a result of ischaemia this causes a heart attack or myocardial Infarction.

Treatment for a heart attack

Treatment for a heart attack varies and depends on the type of heart attack that you experienced.

Types of a heart attack include:

  • When a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, this suggests that you have experienced a “STEMI” heart attack (ST-elevation myocardial infarction)
  • When a coronary artery becomes partially blocked, this suggests an “NSTEMI” (non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction)

For the treatment of a STEMI heart attack, a procedure known as Coronary Angioplasty is used to widen the coronary artery and thus improve blood flow. You may also be prescribed a blood thinning medication (Aspirin) to prevent you from developing any further blood clots. The procedure involves the insertion of a tube with a balloon (balloon catheter) attached to the tip which is inflated on insertion into a large artery either in your groin or arm. The tube is then passed through your blood vessel to your heart. An x-ray is used to guide the wire.

An NSTEMI heart attack can be treated either by Coronary Angioplasty procedure or a different type of procedure known as CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft). This procedure involves bypassing a blood vessel from another part of the body such as the chest, leg, or arm, and attaching it to the coronary artery above and below the area that is narrowed or blocked. The graft, as the new blood vessel is called, diverts around the blocked parts of the coronary artery to improve blood flow to the heart.

Preventing heart problems

The best way to prevent a heart attack is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Ensure to eat a low-fat, high-fibre diet. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats such as pies, deep-fried chips, sausages, butter, and ghee. These types of fats increase your cholesterol levels which then build up in your coronary arteries as fatty deposits and plaque causing atherosclerosis.

Regular exercise such as walking, gardening, running, and swimming can all help to prevent you from developing a heart attack. Studies show that increasing physical activity in your daily routine puts you at less risk of developing a heart attack.2,3


Heart attacks can occur at any time and in some cases, especially with women, the symptoms are not always obvious. Seek medical advice if you experience chest pain and discomfort, especially if it radiates to other parts of the body. If you are a woman then other symptoms such as upper back pain, nausea, light-headedness are also warning signs that you may be experiencing a heart attack. A heart attack can have a detrimental impact on your heart, however, treatment is available and it can also be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle together with regular exercise.


  1. Steele J, Coltman C, McGhee D. Effects of obesity on breast size, thoracic spine structure and function, upper torso musculoskeletal pain and physical activity in women. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2020;9(2):140-148.
  2. Angst F, Angst J, Ajdacic-Gross V, Aeschlimann A, Rössler W. Epidemiology of Back Pain in Young and Middle-Aged Adults: A Longitudinal Population Cohort Survey From Age 27–50 Years. Psychosomatics. 2017;58(6):604-613.
  3. Tian D, Meng J. Exercise for Prevention and Relief of Cardiovascular Disease: Prognoses, Mechanisms, and Approaches. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2019;2019:1-11.
  4. Li J, Siegrist J. Physical Activity and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease—A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2012;9(2):391-407.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Kadi Ajilogba

Master of Science - MS, Adult Health Nurse/Nursing, Keele University, England

With over 10 years of experience working within the healthcare industry, in both acute and mental health settings, I pride myself in being able to cater to the patient's needs using a holistic approach. I am an advocate for promoting patient safety and wellbeing and I also embrace the notion of making every contact count with patients of different backgrounds and cultures.

I have worked in mental health settings which means that I am able to deal with patients presenting with challenging behaviours or those perhaps going through a crisis. I am trained in PMVA (Prevention Management of Violence and Aggression) as well as Team Teach which looks at teaching positive behaviour management in order to support young people going through a mental health crisis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818