Upper Back Pain After Eating

If you experience upper back pain after eating, you likely are concerned and want to get to the bottom of it.

This seems like a weird problem to have, but there are actually quite a few reasons your upper back hurts after you eat. It can be something as simple as poor posture during your meal, or something more serious like an ulcer, kidney infection, or even a heart attack. Many people say they feel upper back pain after eating but lower back pain after drinking.

We’ll help you differentiate between the different causes, and help you determine whether or not a doctor or ER visit makes sense.

Why does my upper back hurt after I eat?

Most often, you’ll experience upper back pain after eating as a result of referred pain. This means that pain starts somewhere other than the back, and radiates there. 

This makes it tricky to pinpoint the root cause of the pain, as it can be easy to feel pain in your back and just assume you have a back issue.

But, when your upper back starts hurting immediately after you eat, it likely isn’t an upper back issue at all. 

More than likely, it’s an issue with your kidneys, heart, stomach, or other digestive organs. 

Let’s cover all the common causes of this issue, starting with the least serious and working our way towards causes that warrant a hospital visit.

Common causes of upper back pain after eating

Before going too crazy diagnosing your back pain, make sure you eat with good posture. A lot of the time people eat slouched over. 

This is especially common in taller people with an aging spine, as they can easily put undue stress on the upper back by leaning over the dining table to eat.

If you have poor posture in general, this is a likely culprit. However, sometimes it isn’t poor posture at all, and there is a more serious underlying cause.


Heartburn is a super acidic feeling in your chest, that can be characterized as burning. If you have experienced it, you know the exact feeling we are talking about.

It can be triggered by certain foods, and is more prominent after a big meal. Other symptoms include coughing, a sour taste in the mouth, and pain that radiates to the upper back in severe instances. More specifically, heartburn causes back pain between the shoulder blades after eating.

If your heartburn occasionally comes and goes, it is likely nothing to concern yourself over. However, if it persists long term, causing you grief more than a few times a week, you may have GERD, which can lead to ulcers. So monitor your heartburn, and if it becomes frequent see a doctor.


If you’ve never had an ulcer, consider yourself lucky. These are an incredibly painful condition in the stomach or esophagus, with pain radiating to the upper back. The pain in your stomach is characterized as searing.

Other symptoms of ulcers are belching, bloating, a burning pain in the stomach, vomiting, heartburn, and more. More often than not, you should see a doctor if you suspect ulcers.

Ulcer treatment consists of antibiotics to kill the infection (if needed), and medications to block acid production and neutralize your stomach acid, while protecting the lining of your stomach.

Gallbladder issues (gallstones)

A lot of people forget about the gallbladder, but this little oblong shaped organ sits directly below the liver.

It can become inflamed, and sometimes will create hard deposits known as gallstones. This process can be brought to fruition by eating fatty foods, which makes gallbladder pain more likely after eating.

It results in severe abdominal pain, and often radiates into the upper middle back. Other symptoms include nausea.


One of the more serious causes of upper back pain after a meal is pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas, which is responsible for digestion and blood sugar regulation.

It’s a painful condition which starts in the abdomen and radiates to the back. Other symptoms include a fast pulse, fever, and nausea/vomiting.

If you think you have pancreatitis, you should visit the hospital or doctor asap.

Kidney infection

A kidney infection would be present throughout the day, but would certainly be exacerbated after a big meal.

When your stomach is full, it can put pressure on nearby organs, one of which is the kidney. The kidney is inflamed when infected, so the meal you consumed will press on this, and make the pain even more noticeable.

Other symptoms of a kidney infection include abdominal pain, blood in the urine accompanied by a burning sensation, chills, fever, frequent urination, and vomiting.

If you suspect a kidney infection, make an immediate appointment with a doctor. If you cannot be seen relatively quickly, an ER trip may be warranted.

Heart attack

A heart attack is likely the most serious underlying cause of upper back pain after eating. Truth be told, it can happen at any point throughout the day, but it is so serious we had to include it.

Other telltale signs of a heart attack include chest pain, lightheadedness, nausea, sweating, and pain in the jaw, neck, and arms. The pain from the chest is deep, and will radiate to the upper back.

If you have these symptoms and suspect a heart attack, call 911 or have someone drive you to the ER.

Preventing upper back pain after eating

Most of the issues with upper back pain after you eat are simply the result of certain foods exacerbating an issue you already have.

A lot of the time, you can prevent this from happening by simply changing up your diet, and eliminating certain foods, such as spicy or fatty foods and 

However, there is never harm in visiting a doctor for a more in depth evaluation of your health. 

Photo of author

Stevie Compango, CNSC, CPT

Stevie is Certified Nutrition Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer for the past 10 years. He specializes in mobility and chronic pain management. His methods have helped thousands of clients improve the quality of their life through movement.

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