Pain in the thoracic back (or spine) is not something one should just “live with,” for several reasons. The thoracic portion of your back or spine is not the most common area of pain or injury. However, the pain felt in this area is generally more serious with underlying conditions. In many cases, pain in the thoracic spine can be fixed with conservative methods of treatment
What is the Anatomy of My Spine?
Your spine is made up of 24 individual bones that are stacked on top of one another. To visualize the anatomy of your spine separate it into three parts. The cervical spine is the neck, the thoracic spine covers the majority of your upper to mid back, and the lowest portion being the lumbar spine which attaches to the sacrum. The spine is important because it provides the main form of support for your body. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to stand upright, bend, or twist. Since the spine is so vital to the human body, any type of strain, injury, or illness can cause major issues.
Information on the Thoracic Back or Spine
Referring to the upper and middle back, the thoracic spine joins the cervical spine and extends down five inches past the bottom of your shoulder blades. The lower portion of the thoracic spine connects to the lumbar spine. The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebrae and acts as the stabilizer to your spine. Several features of the thoracic spine separate it from the other two primary portions of the spine. First, it has minimal flexibility as its job is to stabilize and center your body. The rib cage is connected to each level of the thoracic spine anchoring each level down to provide support. The rib cage provides protection for your body's most vital organs (heart and lungs). Secondly, between the spine's 24 unfused vertebrae are intervertebral discs. In the thoracic spine, these discs are much slimmer than elsewhere. This creates limited flexibility and range of motion in the area. Lastly, the cervical and thoracic spine form a canal protection for the spinal cord to pass through. At the thoracic spine, the canal is narrower, causing it to be at a higher risk for damage.
What are the Causes of Thoracic Back Pain?
Pain located in the area of the spine discussed above (thoracic spine) can create major discomfort and pain for an individual. If you’re experiencing pain that feels like it is shooting through your spine, this may be symptoms of the thoracic spine. Because this region of the spine includes the spinal column, spinal cords, discs, nerves, tendons and more, any inflammation or irritation of these parts creates discomfort. A number of reasons may cause inflammation and irritation of the thoracic back including:
Poor posture, Improper lifting techniques (mostly with heavy items) learn proper lifting techniques here
Osteoporosis - bones become brittle from loss of tissue
Osteoarthritis - degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone
Thoracic spinal stenosis - herniated disc, and scoliosis.
Do I have Symptoms of any Related Thoracic Spine Conditions?
Read these descriptions of pain to find which you identify most with:
My pain is the most severe in the morning. I usually experience stiffness in my neck and back. This pain is at it’s worse when I am upright, and I have the most relief while lying down.
You most likely have: Osteoarthritis of the spine
Causes: Osteoarthritis is a degenerative form of joint arthritis most often associated with aging. In the spine, it affects the facet joints, intervertebral discs, and ligaments.
Treatments: Primary treatment includes physical therapy, weight loss, and anti-inflammatory medication. Wearing a brace made for osteoarthritis is a great way to recovery.
I’ve noticed a loss of height in myself and stooped posture. I’m experiencing some dull back pain in my bones and muscles, primarily in my lower back and neck.
You most likely have: Osteoporosis
Causes: Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become weak and brittle. Those at the highest risk are over the age of 35. Lack of exercise and calcium are primary causes of the weakening bones. Often times people with osteoporosis experience fractures of bones fairly commonly and way too easily.
Treatments: Increasing intakes of calcium and vitamin D are key to bone restoration and health. Exercise is a huge player in strengthening your bones and attempting to help your osteoporosis. Wearing a TLSO brace for your spine will help ensure a swifter recovery.
I’m experiencing aching in my legs that makes walking difficult. The pain feels like a burning sensation that is focused in one area, primarily being my thighs and calves. I’ve experienced pain located in my ribs or other internal organs.
You most likely have: Thoracic spinal stenosis
Causes: Thoracic spinal stenosis is most common in elderly individuals. Stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal to a degree where the cord or nerves are injured or compromised. Thoracic spinal stenosis is when the narrowing occurs in the middle of the back.
Treatments: Physical therapy, medication, and wearing a spinal stenosis brace are all strong conservative treatment efforts. If you have no proven results it is not uncommon for your doctor or physical therapist to consult with you about surgery.
I’m experiencing pain that's focused on my back and radiates to my sides, this pain even wraps around my body to my chest.
You most likely have: Herniated Disc
Causes: Herniated disc is most often an aging injury from degeneration. The discs in your spine lose water content as you age, making them less flexible and prone to twists and sprains. Often times improper lifting techniques could cause a herniated disc.
Treatments: Thankfully, conservative treatment methods prove to help with herniated discs. Icing and heat treatments are great ways to being your recovery process. Exercises and stretching to work out your herniated disc will lead to a quick recovery. Wearing a brace for herniated discs in the meantime will only further speed along your results.
I noticed that my back seems to be rounded, I also have difficulty breathing and I’m fatigued. I often experience tenderness in my spinal area.
You most likely have: Kyphosis
Causes: Kyphosis is most common with older age women because they are more likely to have osteoporosis. Once you’ve had osteoporosis and your muscles in your spinal bones are weakened, the development of kyphosis is likely to occur.
Treatment: Physical therapy, surgery, and exercise are all kyphosis treatment options.
I’ve noticed that parts of my body don’t appear to be even. For example, one of my hips is higher than the other and my shoulders and waist seem to be misaligned.
You most likely have: Scoliosis
Causes: Scoliosis is a lateral turn in what is normally a straight spine. There are many different types and causes of scoliosis. However, it's more common with females and is normally noticed at a younger age.
Treatments: Bracing is the primary and initially form of treatment in order to halt further movement of the spine. However, consulting with a doctor needs to be the first step if you believe you have scoliosis.