The back is an important part of the body that helps transmit many of our various neural impulses via the spinal cord. It is the center of the body connected to both our arms and our legs.
When part of the back is in pain, or if you suffer from thoracic spine pain, it can almost grind your body to a halt. It hurts to sit or stand, and it can even hurt to lay down. But, what is thoracic back pain and how does it happen?
In this guide to thoracic back pain, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about thoracic back pain. From thoracic spine pain causes to thoracic spine pain treatment, by the time you finish reading this guide, you will have a pretty good idea about how thoracic back pain occurs and what you can do to stop it.
What Is Thoracic Spine Pain?
If you are new to back pain, you may not be too sure what thoracic spine pain is. Back pain is back pain, isn’t it? No one wants or appreciates back pain.
But, in the case of thoracic spine pain, it’s fairly specific. Thoracic spine pain is upper and middle back pain, specifically in the region of the top 12 bones of the spinal column. Anything lower than that is considered lower back pain.
Thoracic spine pain isn’t as common as lower back pain for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take the wind out of your sails when it hits you. In that event, the first thing you need to do is identify the causes of thoracic spine pain.
Thoracic Spine Pain Causes
Just like lower back pain, thoracic spine pain tends to have a multitude of possible causes that can be anything from just moving in an awkward position to spinal stenosis. With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of medical reasons why someone might be suffering from thoracic spine pain.
Osteoporosis is a medical condition where the bones become thin and weak. In this case, the osteoporosis may be breaking down the bone bits of your spine.
2. Paget’s Disease
Paget’s disease is a condition that results in abnormal bone tissue loss.
The inflammation or infection of bones is called osteomyelitis, and it can cause thoracic back pain.
4. Spinal Degeneration
Essentially, spinal degeneration is the degeneration of the joints of the spine. If it occurs in the upper area, it can cause thoracic spine pain.
Spinal Stenosis is a medical condition where the spinal canal becomes narrow, which, in turn, creates pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
Other physical ailments that can cause thoracic spine pain include:
- Scoliosis (curving of the spine)
- Herniated discs
- Spinal fractures
- Certain illnesses
- Aortic aneurysms
- Heart attacks
Now that you know what can cause thoracic spine pain, you are probably wondering what the symptoms are. Are the symptoms of thoracic spine pain different than the symptoms of lower back pain? And, how can you tell the difference?
Symptoms of Thoracic Spine Pain
There are many symptoms of spine pain in general. But, for symptoms relating to thoracic spine pain, there is one major difference. Location.
Thoracic spine pain will always occur in the area where the top 12 bones of the spine are. Any pain lower than those would be considered lower back pain.
The other symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of other types of back pain and they include:
- Limited range of motion
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasms
- Stooped posture
- Thoracic nerve pain (this can manifest in symptoms like numbness or burning pain)
Once you have the symptoms down, the next step is to move forward with treatment.
Thoracic Spine Pain Treatment
You’ve had pretty bad thoracic spine pain symptoms, you’ve gone to the doctor and are now diagnosed with thoracic spine pain, so the next step is treatment. The treatments can range from medication to physical manipulation and pressure.
These are the are the thoracic spine pain treatments your doctors may recommend.
1. Pain Medications
Pain medications like ibuprofen and Tylenol can help with mild thoracic spine pain. These medications help decrease pain symptoms and allow you to heal from less serious causes of upper back pain.
2. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy may be needed to resolve your upper back issues. This type of therapy can include chiropractic manipulation and traction to correct the issues that may be causing you pain. Exercises may also be recommended by your doctor (we’ll look at those in more detail later).
If your thoracic spine pain is due more to muscle injury, massage may be able to help. The massage will warm up, stretch out, and ultimately help relax the muscles that may be causing you pain.
Depending on what is causing your thoracic spine pain, steroids may be recommended by your doctor. The steroids can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation of the spine, and possibly help relieve any pressure.
Unfortunately, some spine problems may be so severe, or there may be so much damage done to the spine that surgery is the only option.
If you’re lucky, you may not need these type of treatments. All you might need is some exercises to help strengthen and stretch your back.
Thoracic Spine Pain Exercises
Before we go further, you should be aware that these exercises may not help all thoracic spine pain. In some cases, they may make things worse. But, before beginning an exercise program that includes these exercises, consult with your doctor to ensure that you will be helping and healing your back with these movements, and will not result in further damage.
Here are some thoracic spine pain exercises you can try.
1. Thoracic Stretch
Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out straight with your feet pointing up towards the ceiling. Place your hands on the mid-thigh area, and move your head and neck slowly to curl toward the stomach. Hold this curled position for 15 seconds, and then repeat it three times.
Continue the stretch by pointing your right elbow and shoulder forward toward the ground and twist your upper body to the left. Hold this twisted position for 15 seconds. Repeat the sequence to twist the opposite way with your left elbow pointing forward. Twist each side for a total of three times.
2. Yoga Shoulder Stretch
This stretch requires either a towel, resistance band, or strap. Begin by sitting up in a comfortable position on your knees. Hold the towel, band, or strap tightly in front of you with both hands. Straighten your arms and move your resistance tool of choice on an inhale, and then stretch your arms behind on an exhale. Only stretch as far back as the arms can go while remaining straight.
Do the exercise a total of 10 times. You should not feel any pain performing this exercise, so if pain begins during the stretch, stop stretching.
3. The Butterfly
Place your hands on your shoulders with your palms facing down. Keep your hands on your shoulders and try to bring your elbows as close as possible in front of your body. Doing this should stretch the muscles of your upper back. Hold this position for three breaths and then return to the starting position.
For best results, perform this for one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
4. Mid-Trap Exercise
Lie on your stomach (a pillow may be folded and placed under the chest for additional support). Place your arms straight out to the sides with your elbows straight and your thumbs pointing toward the ceiling. Slowly, raise your arms to the ceiling, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Slowly, lower the arms back to the starting position.
Do three sets of 15 repetitions.
Hopefully, these exercises will be of help to you.
Be Kind to Your Back
Your back is an important piece of your body. It can affect your movement in every way. When your thoracic spine hurts, it can cause everything to hurt from lying down to standing up. If your back does hurt, take care of it. The quicker you deal with these issues, the quicker you can go back to living your life comfortably.
Kerkar, P., “What Can Cause Thoracic Back Pain and How Is It Treated?” ePain Assist, March 2, 2017; https://www.epainassist.com/back-pain/mid-back-pain/thoracic-back-pain.
“Thoracic Back Pain Causes & Symptoms,” BraceAbility; https://www.braceability.com/blog/thoracic-back-pain-causes-symptoms/.
French, A., “Causes of Thoracic Spine Pain,” Livestrong, April 18, 2010; http://www.livestrong.com/article/108643-causes-thoracic-spine-pain/
Cashin, K., “The Best Exercises for Thoracic Back Pain,” Livestrong, August 17, 2013; http://www.livestrong.com/article/263685-the-best-exercises-for-thoracic-back-pain/