When patients see their doctor about back pain, the problem area is often either in the lumbar (lower spine) or the cervical (neck) region. However, pain can also occur in the mid- and upper-back areas of the spinal column, located between the lumbar and cervical regions – this is called the thoracic spine.
The thoracic spine is named for its location in the thorax area of the body. And the more you know about the thoracic spine, the better you can work with your doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, or massage therapist to relieve pain and maintain your range of motion.
What Is the Thoracic Spine?
The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebral bones that are connected to your ribs, with which it creates a protected space – or cage – that houses your lungs, heart, and other organs. Each of the 12 thoracic vertebrae is referred to by “T” with an identifying number, indicating the level of the thoracic spine in which a particular vertebra is located. That’s why the thoracic spine is often simply referred to as the “T-spine.”
Unlike other areas of the spine, the thoracic spine is limited in terms of flexion (bending, extending, or arching). However, it is capable of rotating or twisting. It is also just as susceptible to injury or degeneration as the cervical or lumbar areas of the spine.
What Causes Pain in the Thoracic Spine?
In fact, studies show that factors such as growth, posture, lifestyle, and even psychology are associated with T-spine pain. This is why older adolescents and those with poor mental health are predisposed to thoracic spine pain.
Common causes of T-spine pain include:
- A traumatic accident or collision that causes a vertebra to fracture or to become misaligned or displaced
- Osteoarthritis, in which wear-and-tear within the facet joints leads to a breakdown of cartilage – resulting in inflammation, bone spurs, and pain
- Osteoporosis, in which bones weaken with age, and compression fractures develop
- Kyphosis, in which the T-spine becomes hunched forward too much, stressing muscles and causing upper back pain
- Scoliosis, which is an abnormal, side-to-side curvature of the spine
- Degenerative disc disease, which can occur as often as disc degeneration in the cervical and lumbar regions but is less likely to cause pain, because the intervertebral foramen (passage in the bone) is much bigger in the T-spine – thereby allowing more room for the spinal nerves and reducing the chance they can become pinched or inflamed
Treatment for Pain in the T-Spine
Since thoracic spine pain is often caused by muscle tension or poor posture, initial treatment focuses on relieving the tension through stretching, massage, and over-the-counter medications. Also, heat and/or ice therapy is used to reduce muscle pain and stiffness.
Other treatment options include:
- Physical therapy and home exercises that strengthen the muscles in the back, shoulders, and abdominal area
- Prescription medication in the form of oral anti-inflammatories, nerve blockers, and muscle relaxants
- Trigger-point injections to relax muscle tension and spasms
- Facet-joint injections to help reduce swelling and relieve painful pressure on the joints
- Epidural steroid injections to treat nerve inflammation in a herniated or degenerated disc
- A back brace to stabilize a broken vertebra while it heals
- Chiropractic manipulation
Texas Orthopedic Physicians
If you are suffering from thoracic spinal pain, Tarpon Orthopedics – your sports medicine, spine, and pain specialists – can diagnose your condition and devise a treatment plan just for you.
Call us today at (972) 596-1059 or fill out our online form to request an appointment now, and we can help you enjoy a more active, pain-free lifestyle.