Back Pain When Swallowing

Internet forums are full of reports of a strange phenomenon: back pain when swallowing. Many people are concerned that this bizarre occurrence is a sign of something serious. While painful swallowing can be attributed to a number of disorders, back pain may indicate something much simpler. This is not a problem that most health professionals are familiar with; a solid understanding of the correlation is lacking. There are, however, reasons to suspect that the following can result in upper back pain when swallowing.

Trapezius Injury

The trapezius is a large, triangular muscle that begins in the mid back and extends up to the neck and over to the shoulder. It is used primarily to raise the shoulders and pull the shoulder blades together. Since muscular tension is common in the shoulders and this muscle covers such a widespread area, the trapezius is susceptible to injury. The muscle can be pulled by heavy lifting or awkward movements of the shoulder. Many people develop knots called trigger points in the trapezius muscle, especially in the middle by the shoulder blades and toward the top along the neck.

There are a number of muscles involved in the action of swallowing, including the pharynx and esophagus. Many of the muscles are closely situated to the trapezius. It is possible that, for some people, an injured trapezius muscle can be irritated by the nearby muscle actions involved in swallowing.

Another possible connection between this muscle and the act of swallowing is Cranial Nerve XI, which provides motor capacity to the trapezius and to a number of components involved in swallowing, including the uvula and larynx. Pain in the injured muscle may be triggered by excitation of the shared nerve at another location. For a better understanding of the muscles and nerves involved in swallowing, see

Have you performed some activity or movement that placed strain on your mid or upper back lately? If so, it is likely that the trapezius is the cause of your pain. The pain should subside once the muscle heals. For people with chronic tension, myofascial release may be needed to dissolve trigger points in the muscle before pain when swallowing is eased.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease is essentially a severe and persistent combination of acid reflux and heartburn. Acid reflux causes heartburn, the irritation of the esophagus which leads to a burning sensation throughout the chest and possibly other symptoms, including upper back pain.

Generally the pain experienced from this disorder is felt after eating, but can occur while eating. Painful swallowing can result if stomach acid causes sores in the swallowing apparatus. Inflammation or nerve sharing may lead to referred pain in the upper back. Back pain that coincides with pain anywhere in the ingestion and digestion tracts may be linked to a digestive disorder like GERD, and therefore such disorders should be tested for.

While the evidence is only anecdotal, it appears that upper back pain may happen when swallowing either due to muscle trauma or GERD. If none of these problems are present, seeking medical attention is necessary to rule out any potentially serious cause. See to read about other people’s experiences with swallowing and back pain.

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