When people refer to “thoracic pain,” they’re referring to a pain that is occurring in the thoracic region of the spine. This is the area of the spine located at the back of the chest (thorax) that extends between the shoulder blades from the bottom of the neck down to about the area of the waist. The thoracic spine, which contains 12 of the body’s 33 vertebrae, is the longest portion of the spine, the only portion of the spine that is attached to the rib cage, and arguably the most complex part of the spine.
Common Causes of Thoracic Back Pain
As is the case with most types of spine pain, thoracic pain may result from muscle sprains or strains, poor posture over a prolonged period of time, muscle atrophy due to a sedentary lifestyle, overuse injuries resulting from repetitive movements over time. Other less-common causes of thoracic pain include:
- Spinal infection
- Slipped discs
- Herniated discs
- Fractured vertebrae
- Fractured or bruised ribs
- Spinal tumor
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Spondylitis (inflammation of joints between the vertebrae)
- Scheuermann’s disease (inflammation of spinal joints that result in curvature to the spine)
It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes, pain that's felt in the thoracic spine is not caused by a problem with the spine. Sometimes, the pain radiates to the spine from another area of the body such as the lungs, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, or gallbladder.
Symptoms of a Thoracic Spine Problem
When you feel generalized spinal pain, you may not be able to pinpoint which region it’s coming from. If your pain is accompanied by the following symptoms, that’s a strong indication that your thoracic spine could be the source.
- Tingling, burning, numbness, and/or pins-and-needles sensations in the spine
- Inability to comfortably maintain proper posture
- Changes in bladder or bowel habits, including incontinence
- Limited range of motion
- Muscle spasms and/or weakness
- Spinal pain accompanied by rib, shoulder, arm, finger, neck, and/or leg pain
Thoracic Spine Pain Treatment
In many cases, thoracic back pain will resolve on its own within a couple of weeks. If your pain continues, is severe, and/or is accompanied by other worrisome symptoms it’s important to be evaluated by a spine doctor who can make sure your pain isn’t being caused by a serious underlying condition.
For cases of thoracic pain that do require treatment, the most common treatment options include physical therapy, massage therapy, prescription medication, pain medicine injections, and laminectomy surgery.