Upper left shoulder back pain symptoms

Updated June 13, 2017

Pain in the upper left shoulder and back can be annoying and distracting, especially when trying to sleep or go about life's normal activities. Fortunately, symptoms of this pain can be prevented and easily treated.


People with upper left shoulder and back pain might experience a persistent, dull ache or intermittent throbbing; pain might be worse in the morning or after physical activity. Pain lasting under six weeks is considered acute, and pain for more than three months is considered chronic, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.


Doctors diagnose symptoms of shoulder and back pain by conducting a physical exam and might order tests, including X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), radioactive bone scans or nerve studies.


Symptoms of pain in the upper left shoulder and back might be caused by arthritis, a broken or dislocated bone in the upper body, infections, muscular disorders, overuse or injury.


Pain in the upper shoulder and back might cause difficulty with exercise or working at jobs that require physical labour, such as heavy lifting.


Doctors might prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, antidepressants or narcotic pain relievers to treat the pain. Physical therapy and exercise might be recommended, and surgery is an option of last resort.


Engaging in regular exercise that strengthens upper-body muscles; maintaining a healthy weight; and using good posture when sitting, standing, exercising and lifting can prevent symptoms of upper shoulder and back pain, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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About the Author

Jessica Lietz has been writing about health-related topics since 2009. She has several years of experience in genetics research, survey design, analysis and epidemiology, working on both infectious and chronic diseases. Lietz holds a Master of Public Health in epidemiology from The Ohio State University.