What is thoracic pain?
Thoracic pain is back pain that occurs in the middle (or thoracic) region of the spine.
The human spine consists of three main regions: the cervical spine, the thoracic spine and the lumbar spine. Thoracic pain is a type of back pain that occurs in the middle and part of the upper back portion of the spine.
In this article we’ll be addressing the various causes of this pain, what other symptoms come with it, as well as what the diagnosis and treatment process looks like.
What causes it?
Various factors and spinal disorders can lead to pain in the thoracic spine, including:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Facet joint dysfunction
- Muscle strains or sprains
- Poor posture
- Spinal stenosis (of the thoracic spine)
- Thoracic disc herniations. A herniated disc (or intervertebral disc herniation) in the thoracic spine occurs when the soft tissue within a disc partially slips outside of its shell. This can lead to pain as well as other symptoms.
- Thoracic spinal cord compression. If the spinal cord becomes compressed as it passes along the thoracic spine, pain will be felt locally
- Other spinal disorders
What are its symptoms?
The pain can occur by itself, or it can be accompanied by a series of other symptoms such as reduced range of motion, tingling, or numbness.
Additionally, pain can be either local, or originate in the thoracic spine, but refer to a different part of the body, such as the arms or legs. Thoracic pain may also affect your rib cage.
How is thoracic pain diagnosed?
In a high number of cases, back pain tends to go away on its own. However, if you’re worried that it may be a sign of something serious, seek immediate medical advice.
Diagnosing thoracic pain is not necessarily about the pain itself, but rather about the underlying cause(s) of this pain. Sometimes pain may occur on its own, but at other times it may represent a red flag that something more serious is going on.
The diagnosis process may vary depending on the severity of your condition. The initial step consists of a physical examination where a specialist will examine the local area of your pain and ask relevant questions to determine the next course of action.
If the specialist cannot directly tell the cause of your symptoms of if he/she discovers something that could be a cause of concern (such as suspecting the presence of a compression fracture or tumour), you may be referred to have further tests and scans to pinpoint the exact cause of your problem.
How to treat thoracic back pain
Once you get a confirmation of your diagnosis, you may consider some of the following options to treat thoracic spine pain. However, before you proceed forward with any form of treatment, it would be useful to bear in mind that it is usually recommended to start with the least invasive treatment option first and work your way up from there.
- Muscle relaxants may be effective if the source of your pain is caused by muscle spasms or tension.
- Physical therapy. This is a great way to address thoracic back pain as it oftentimes focuses on mobilisation of the spine, and even spinal decompression, which is one of the leading hidden causes of back pain in general.
- OTC anti-inflammatory medication. Although they may be helpful for a short period of time, anti-inflammatory medications do not actually treat the problem of your back pain, but rather they temporarily mask your pain.
- As a last resort, spinal surgery may be considered for extreme cases. This should only be considered if the patient did not respond to more conservative forms of treatment. Because it is a maximally invasive procedure, it should be approached with caution and should never be the first approach to treating back pain.
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