Approximately 8% of American adults complain of persistent or chronic back pain. So, if you’re suffering from right side back pain, you’re not alone. Back pain costs patients a total of $12 billion annually in the United States, much of which is from the indirect costs of missing work.
Back pain in your right side can be a short-term issue or a chronic condition. In some cases, it’s an indication of a life-threatening infection. In others, it’s a warning to change behaviors in your daily activities.
What Does Upper Right Back Pain Feel Like?
Upper right back pain feels differently according to the cause and severity of your condition. Any of the following sensations classify as upper right side back pain:
- Muscle stiffness
In some cases, the pain in the upper right side of your back might come and go. Other times, it might be a chronic sensation.
What Does Lower Right Back Pain Feel Like?
Lower right back pain has similar attributes as upper back pain, given that the severity and sensation vary according to the person and cause. Some words that people use to describe lower right back pain include:
- Piercing stab
- Dull ache
- Heavy weight
It’s also common for people with lower right back pain to have pain that radiates from the central pain point to other parts of their back or body.
10 Causes of Upper Right Back Pain
Many conditions can cause back pain in your upper right side. Below are some of the most common scenarios, their symptoms, causes, and how to remedy them.
1. Respiratory Infection
Respiratory infections can range from pneumonia to bronchitis and a chest infection. Some common symptoms of respiratory infections include:
- Sore throat
- Chest pain
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
The chest cavity houses your lungs, which sit in the uppermost portion of your body. As a result, respiratory issues can cause your middle to upper back to hurt from an infection.
Unfortunately, some people mistake their back pain for a pulled muscle. For this reason, it’s crucial to visit a doctor if you have any symptoms we listed above.
Prescribed antibiotics or penicillin are the most effective way to treat a respiratory infection. Your doctor will encourage you to rest and drink lots of water until your symptoms subside. In severe respiratory infection cases, you may need hospitalization.
If you not only have upper back pain on your right side but also between your shoulder blades, it could be a sign that you have gallstones. Other symptoms of gallstones include:
- Abdominal pain
You might particularly feel pain in the right portion of your abdomen, especially after eating high-fat foods.
Gallstones are a painful condition that occurs when the bile in your gallbladder hardens into a substance akin to stones. If you ignore your upper back pain and leave gallstones untreated, it can lead to an infection of your bile ducts, liver, or pancreas.
There are several ways to remove gallstones, depending on the severity of your condition. In some cases, doctors can dissolve them with a methyl-tert-butyl ether injection or oral dissolution therapy.
In other cases, you might need gallbladder removal surgery and extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy.
3. Bad Posture
Researchers believe that poor posture is one of the leading causes of back pain that impacts over 80% of Americans during their lifetime. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to relieve right side back pain caused by poor posture.
Signs of poor posture include:
- Sore neck
- Muscle fatigue
- Rounded shoulders
The rounded curvature that comes from poor posture strains the muscles, joints, and bones around your spine. Since these are located in your back, the result can be a chronically sore upper backside.
Good posture starts with a strong core. So, implementing abdominal strength training exercises is a key step to creating better posture. You can also do posture correction stretches and wear a corrective brace such as the one below.
Stress can cause musculoskeletal issues, causing you to feel pain in the upper right side of your back. When you become stressed, your back muscles tense up for longer periods than usual.
Aside from back pain, other signs of stress include:
- Mood swings
- Weight fluctuations
Acute stress comes from short-term situations such as adrenaline-pumping events or fighting with a loved one. But back pain in the upper right side often results from chronic stress, which can be from long-term issues like money problems, a stressful job, or violence at home.
Upper right back pain from stress results from your back muscles being too tight for too long. You can reduce the back pain associated with stress by exercising, meditating, journaling, and eating healthy.
5. A Bad Liver
A liver issue could be at play if you have pain in your upper right back, your right shoulder, and the right side of your abdomen. Other symptoms of liver pain include:
- Swollen legs
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal swelling
- Yellow skin
Back pain from a liver issue can be due to general liver inflammation, an abscess, liver cancer, or fatty liver disease, among other conditions. Some situations that can cause liver issues are hepatitis, immune system issues, and genetics.
Sometimes, preventing back pain from a liver issue is as simple as drinking lots of water and not eating food with fatty acids. Other liver circumstances are more life-threatening and may require surgery. Many people with liver issues benefit by losing weight and lowering their cholesterol levels.
6. Muscle Injury
Muscle injury, which also includes a strained muscle, ranges in how it feels depending on the severity of the damage.
You may feel a dull ache on the upper right side of your back, which is a nuisance but doesn’t prevent you from going about your day. In other cases, you may feel a sharp pain that can feel debilitating to move the affected muscle.
The most common causes of muscle injuries and strains include:
- Improperly lifting heavy objects
- Not warming up before exercise
- Low amount of flexibility
- Playing sports
Rest is often the most effective fix for an injured or strained muscle. You should avoid doing any physical activity that activates the affected area. Icing your muscle for 15 to 20 minutes every two or three hours is also effective, as well as taking ibuprofen.
7. Spinal Fracture
Spinal fractures are serious injuries that cause excruciating upper right side back pain. Signs that you might have a spinal fracture include:
- Muscle spasms
The most common causes of spinal fractures are high-impact situations. Being in a car crash, having an accident when playing sports, or falling from a roof are examples of what can cause this condition.
Treating a spinal fracture varies depending on the severity of the condition. Your doctor will perform radiologic tests to determine the course of action, which may include surgery or rest and at-home treatments.
One of the most common nonsurgical treatments is wearing a brace for six to 12 weeks. During that time, you’ll be able to increase your physical activity gradually.
8. Spine Infection
Another spine-related cause of back pain in your right side can be a spinal infection. In addition to feeling pain, you might also feel stiffness and a limited range of motion.
Other symptoms of a spinal infection include:
- Night sweats
- Muscle spasms
- Back pain increases at night
The cause of spinal infections is typically from bacteria or fungus moving from the bloodstream in a different part of your body to your spine. Several types of spinal infections exist, such as meningitis, vertebral osteomyelitis, and spinal subdural empyema.
People with diabetes, obesity, and HIV have a higher chance of developing a spinal infection.
Visit a doctor immediately if you suspect that you have a spinal infection, for irreversible damage to the bones and soft tissues of your spine can happen if you delay treatment. Your doctor will likely prescribe you an antibiotic or antifungal treatment.
9. Osteoporosis or Osteoarthritis
Osteoporosis is a situation where bones are so weak that they can snap. In contrast, osteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis resulting from the breakdown of cartilage protecting your joints.
Both conditions can cause pain in the upper right back due to a fractured or collapsed vertebra. Signs that you have osteoporosis or osteoarthritis include:
- Loss of height
- Stooped posture
- Bone spurs
A lack of calcium and inactivity throughout a person’s life causes osteoporosis. Obesity, diabetes, and decreased estrogen are some of the many causes of osteoarthritis. Both of these conditions are most common in older adults.
Regular exercise, weight loss, and supplementation are some of the best ways to reduce the upper right back pain that can come with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Some common supplements are vitamin D and calcium.
10. Referred Pain
Referred pain is the concept of feeling pain where it doesn’t originate. According to scientists, referred pain is common in musculoskeletal situations, including chronic back pain.
Symptoms of referred pain vary, but the pain can be:
The causes of referred back pain involve various potential health factors, including kidney stones, pancreatitis, abdominal aneurysm, and tubal pregnancy. It can also be a sign of colon cancer.
Your doctor will need to run several tests to determine if your upper right back pain is the result of a referred condition. If they discover the cause of your pain has nothing to do with your back, they’ll treat the diagnosed condition accordingly.
8 Causes of Lower Right Back Pain
You’ll notice some overlap with the causes of upper and lower right back pain. But certain conditions more commonly cause lower back issues.
Osteoarthritis of the spine is one of the most common arthritic causes of lower right back pain. It’s most common to feel this pain in your back after you’ve been moving.
Some signs that you might have arthritis in your lower right back include:
- Bone spurs
- Reduced flexibility
Arthritis in the lower back is most commonly the result of wear on the body as a person ages. Doctors refer to any arthritis in the lower back as lumbar arthritis, including arthritis in the lower spine.
Repetitive motions using your lower back over the course of years can be one of the conditions causing osteoarthritis.
Arthritis in the lower back is something that people usually learn to manage since doctors usually can’t fix this condition. Doing weight training exercises, exercising, and taking vitamin and mineral supplements can often reduce lower right side back pain.
Pain in the right side of your back can be a symptom of appendicitis, a life-threatening condition. Signs that your pain could be from appendicitis include:
- Sharp pain when twisting
- Pain around the belly button
- Severe cramps
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, striking anywhere from five to nine out of every 100 people in the United States. It’s most common in males and can result from many triggers, such as viruses, parasites, and bacteria.
Surgery is the most common way to treat appendicitis, which involves removing the appendix. You can expect your lower right back pain to disappear after healing from the surgery.
If you have a sharp pain in the back on the right side of your body that runs down to your buttocks or calf, it could be sciatica. Other symptoms of sciatica include:
- A jolt or shock kind of pain
- Tingling in your right leg or foot
- Numbness in your right leg or foot
Sciatica is a painful condition resulting from a pinched nerve. The reasons for sciatica vary, but it’s often from a spinal injury involving issues such as spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and spondylolisthesis.
You can treat mild cases of sciatica with a hot or cold compress, stretching, and exercise. If you have a more severe case that doesn’t let up with these treatments, you can opt for physical therapy or even surgery.
4. Bladder Infection
A bladder infection is a common condition that affects more women than men and can lead to lower back pain on the right side. Symptoms of a bladder infection, which is formally known as a urinary tract infection (UTI), include:
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Frequent need to urinate
- Strong urine odor
- Cloudy urine
- Pelvic pain
UTIs happen when bacteria get into your bladder. Some of the most common ways for this to happen include feces getting into the urethra, sexual activity, urinary tract blockages, catheters, and menopause.
Your doctor will take a urine sample to determine if you have a bladder infection and prescribe you antibiotics accordingly. To prevent future UTIs, drink lots of water, take probiotics, and urinate as soon as you feel the urge.
5. Spinal Disc Issue
A herniated or slipped spinal disc can cause sharp pain in your hips, legs, and the lower right side of your back. Common symptoms include:
- Pain exclusively on one side of your body
- Weak muscles
Many factors can cause spinal disc issues and often involve older age. A lack of exercise or lifting heavy loads for most of one’s life can also spark this condition, along with obesity.
Depending on the severity, there are many ways to manage or reverse spinal disc problems. Exercise and anti-inflammatory medicine can sometimes improve your condition. In other cases, you might need epidural injections, surgery, or physical therapy.
If you’re a pregnant woman feeling low and mid-back pain on your right side, your unborn child could be the cause. Such pain can happen anytime during your pregnancy, and the pain may vary in severity, including pain that feels:
Poor posture, standing too long, and bending over can spark back pain during pregnancy. Stress is another common factor.
Your back pain should resolve itself during pregnancy or after your child arrives in the world. Until then, you can manage your lower right back pain by wearing low-heeled shoes, sleeping on your side, and applying hot or cold compresses.
7. Kidney Stones
Kidney stones can cause excruciating right side back pain. Some examples of other symptoms you may experience if you have kidney stones include:
- Foamy urine
- Swollen feet
- Shortness of breath
Kidney stones are a preventable condition in many cases, as the causes can be not drinking enough water, a high sodium intake, eating too much sugar, and obesity. Some people who have had weight loss surgery also experience kidney stones.
If your kidney stones are small, you can pass them through your urine from home with the help of pain relievers, special medication, and drinking lots of water. Doctors may treat larger kidney stones with sound waves or surgery.
8. Muscle Issue
Muscle pulls, tears, and strains can happen in the lower right side of your back just as much, if not more, than the upper back. Strains and tears are the most common instigators of pain. Symptoms of muscle-induced back pain include:
- Muscle spasms
Any heavy or high-intensity exercise situation can cause you to strain or tear a muscle in the lower right side of your back. Not stretching enough or having a low amount of flexibility can also stress your muscles so that they strain or tear.
Resting your lower back is the best way to recover from a muscle strain, pull, or tear. You should avoid lifting heavy objects and doing anything that will use your affected muscle. Using hot or cold packs and taking anti-inflammatory medication can be effective short-term solutions to this condition, as it typically resolves itself on its own quickly.
How To Prevent Right Side Back Pain
In some cases, it isn’t possible to prevent pain on the right side in your back from happening. But thankfully, you can deter many right side back issues by implementing the following strategies:
- Lift heavy objects by bending at the hips and knees
- Move between long periods of sitting
- Take breaks between repetitive tasks
- Stop any activity that induces pain
- Use good posture
Unless you’re strength training and are targeting your back with weight lifting, you stop any activity that causes back pain.
Since this can be difficult for office workers that suffer from back pain due to prolonged sitting, using a standing desk can be an effective strategy.
Tips for Alleviating Right Side Back Pain at Home
Minor cases of right side back pain will often go away on their own. However, you can speed up the recovery process—or at the very least, make yourself more comfortable—by implementing the at-home strategies below.
- Apply a hot water bottle
- Soak in a hot bath
- Use an ice pack
- Do yoga and stretching
- Don’t rest too long
In many cases, it’s natural to want to rest when you have pain in the right side of your back. However, studies show that long periods of bed rest can increase pain and cause people to take more days off from work than if they remained active.
Finally, you can care for your back pain at home by using over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine like Ibuprofen.
Determining When You Need Medical Intervention
Right side back pain can be from something as relatively harmless as poor posture to a life-threatening condition like appendicitis or a respiratory infection.
If your back pain comes with symptoms such as a fever, vomiting, cloudy urine, or abdominal pain, you should seek medical help immediately.
Furthermore, if you have sudden severe back pain in your right side that prevents you from going about your day, head to the emergency room. The sooner you seek medical support, the better the chance that you’ll be able to recover quicker.