Thoracic (Mid Back) Pain Pain in the Upper Back

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Pain in the Upper Back as a Symptom of Thoracic Spine Damage

Due to injury or a degenerative condition, the vertebrae, nerves or blood vessels in the thoracic spine can become damaged. This can result in severe pain that may feel as though it is coming from the upper-middle of the back.

Thoracic Pain Symptoms – Upper Back Pain

The thoracic spine includes the upper and middle back vertebrae and ribcage.  It also refers to the network of muscles, joints, nerves, and connective tissue associated with the area. When it becomes damaged, pain can ensue and may radiate down through the arms and into the hands and fingers. Numbness or tingling may accompany the pain.

Understanding Pain in the Upper Back as a Symptom of Thoracic Spine Damage

The thoracic spine not only consists of the muscles, joints, nerves, and connective tissue, but also 12 vertebrae and the ribcage. These vertebrae are numbered T1-T12 and begin at the base of the neck and end five inches past the shoulder blades. Due to the ribcage, this part of the spine is generally kept stable and only allowed limited flexibility, thus decreasing chances of thoracic spine damage. Also, the discs between the thoracic vertebrae are thinner than those of the cervical spine or lumbar spine. Due to their size and limited movement, herniated and bulging discs in the thoracic spine are rare. However, diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis may result in degenerative discs over time in any part of the spine. The aging process also contributes to the spinal canal becoming narrower and potentially causing thoracic pain. Many times if damage is done to the thoracic spine it is due in large part to an accident or traumatic injury.

Compression of nerves or blood vessels will cause pain to the upper back. As the pain increases, the patient may begin to over-compensate by using other muscles or parts of the back to continue normal day activities. For example, if the patient feels thoracic pain when leaning to the left while sitting, he or she may adjust their position to always lean to the right. Unfortunately over time, to avoid upper back pain, these behaviors can actually cause stress and damage to other parts of the spine or body. The upper back pain can spread from to other newly inflamed muscles and nerves.

Upper back pain from thoracic spine damage can be made worse by placing too much strain on the involved muscles from consistently poor posture, improper lifting of heavy objects and sometimes even carrying a too-heavy backpack or purse. In fact, many women can experience muscle strain of the upper back only on one side due to carrying a heavy purse on the same side day after day. Physical therapy may help with relieving some upper back pain due to thoracic spine damage by increasing range of motion and building strength. If the upper back becomes too painful to continue normal daily activities, talk to a spine health expert about potential medication therapy, chiropractic care or other conservative treatment option to prevent the upper back pain from becoming worse or further damaging the thoracic or other parts of the spine.


At-a-Glance: Pain in the Upper Back as a Symptom of Thoracic Spine Damage

  • Herniated discs, although uncommon in the thoracic spine, can cause upper back pain and thoracic spine damage
  • Upper back pain may be accompanied by numbness and tingling down the arm
  • Physical therapy may improve flexibility and posture and decrease upper back pain
  • Deep tissue massage may be recommended by the

Health Tips For Thoracic Pain

  • Rest until pain subsides; avoid heavy lifting.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) as needed to fight inflammation.
  • If permitted, do stretching exercises to relieve tension.
  • Physical therapy or chiropractic care may help to alleviate upper back pain by increasing range of motion, improving posture, and building strength.

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