Thoracic (Mid Back) Pain Osteoarthritis

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Is Osteoarthritis To Blame for Your Thoracic Back Pain?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It literally means arthritis of the bone. When it occurs in the mid-back (thoracic) region it can result in localized spine pain and/or pain that radiates along a rib. Osteoarthritis in this region will usually affect the cartilage of the facet joints that support the ribs, causing pain, swelling and inflammation. People over 45 are most prone to contracting osteoarthritis. The condition seems to affect women more than men.

Understanding How Osteoarthritis Can Cause Thoracic Pain

While the mid-back or thoracic region of the spine is less prone to injury than the neck (cervical) and lower back (lumbar) regions, it can still fall prey to major back ailments like osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, osteophytes, shifted vertebrae, facet joint pain, bulging and herniated discs and more.

In order to understand how osteoarthritis can cause pain in this region, it can be helpful to understand the basic structure of the thoracic spine. The middle back is made up of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12) with each vertebra supporting our ribs which curve around connecting to the sternum. The thoracic spine’s curve is kyphotic which is Greek for ‘hump’. This “C”-shaped curve with the opening of the “C” in the front is a clever design that allows room for our lungs, heart and other essential organs in our rib cage. This part of the spine has very narrow, thin intervertebral discs. Rib connections and smaller discs in the thoracic spine limit the amount of spinal movement in the mid back compared to the lumbar or cervical regions of the spine. The vertebrae in this region are smaller than in the lumbar spine because they need to support less weight. There is also less space inside the spinal canal in this region.

In the mid-back area, osteoarthritis causes the degeneration of the spinal vertebrae by damaging the protective discs that cushions the ends of the bones. With time, osteoarthritis transforms them from being smooth and elastic to being rough and worn. With the discs damaged, there is nothing left to protect the bony surfaces which may begin to rub directly against one another when the body moves. This bone-on-bone friction is the cause of pain, tenderness, stiffness and loss of flexibility. In the rib facet joints, tiny fragments of the cartilage may break off and interfere with the motion of the joints, causing tenderness or pain that radiates along the rib.

In some cases, the body may try to compensate for the lack of padding between the vertebral joints by manufacturing little bits of bone that are deposited around the affected vertebra or facet joint. These bony protrusions are commonly known as bone spurs, and are created by the body in an attempt to restore some stability to the joints. As these spurs become larger, they may grow into the surrounding space that the spinal nerves occupy. If one of these nerves is compressed or its path blocked, numbness, tingling and weakness can result.

While gradual degeneration of the back is a normal part of aging, it should be closely monitored by a spine expert. You don’t need to live in pain. A spine doctor will be able to tailor a low back pain relief and an osteoarthritis treatment plan that’s best for you, and help prevent any future spine problems.

There are several non-surgical solutions for relieving the pain of osteoarthritis such as chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture and medications. For some patients, epidural injections and minimally invasive surgery may prove to be the optimal strategy to reduce pain. Basic Spine provides the full spectrum of minimally invasive outpatient options with many surgeries taking less than an hour to perform, and with patients returning home on the same day.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Mid-Back Pain at Home

  • Regular stretching and exercise can help prevent and ease low back pain.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • When lifting heavy objects, use your legs for leverage, not your back.
  • Walk cautiously and wear shoes with good traction when walking on slippery surfaces.
  • When carrying something, be sure to distribute its weight evenly, not favoring one side.

Consult a spine specialist for severe mid-back pain that hasn’t resolved with conservative methods in a few weeks.

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