Home
/
Services & Conditions
/
Thoracic Back Pain

Thoracic Back Pain

Definition

Thoracic back pain is a common ache or discomfort in the area of the middle and upper back. The thoracic region of the spine runs from the base of the neck to the bottom of the chest area, just below the breastbone.

Causes

The back has many small bones, muscles, and soft tissues that surround and protect the spinal cord. Nerves also leave the spinal cord in the back. Pain may be caused by stress, strain, or injury to any of these structures, such as:

  • Muscle strains
  • Ligament sprains
  • Gradual wear and tear of tissue
  • Fractures of vertebra (spinal bones)
  • Nerve compression—pressure on nerves that exit the spine may be caused by problems with muscles, bones, or disc between vertebra
  • Herniated disc—damage to cushions that sit between the vertebra
  • Imbalance of muscles that support the spine

Rarely, thoracic back pain is associated with more serious problems like an infection in the spine, heart or lung problems, or cancer.

Herniated Thoracic Disc
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Damage to the tissue of the back can occur with:

  • Trauma
  • Activities or occupations that require prolonged sitting
  • Repetitive motion
  • Poor posture
  • Being deconditioned—lack of exercise

Pain may start after lifting, bending, or twisting your back, but it is usually caused by a buildup of small injuries or irritation rather than the one time movement.

Medical conditions that may increase your chance of thoracic back pain include:

  • Osteoporosis, which increases the risk of fractures
  • Spinal stenosis—narrowing of the spinal canal
  • Degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis
  • Past surgery or back injury

Symptoms

The intensity and duration of the pain will depend on the cause.

Irritation or damage of muscle or soft tissue may cause:

  • Sharp pain
  • Spasms
  • Throbbing or aching pain
  • Weakness or fatigue

Irritation of the nerves may cause:

  • Burning
  • Tingling/numbing sensation
  • Shooting pain
  • Weakness in area affected by nerve

Your condition may be a combination of any or all of the symptoms above. The symptoms may occur in intensive bursts or be consistent. It may make daily tasks impossible.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, which will include an assessment of the spine and muscles. Your strength, flexibility, sensation, and reflexes may be tested. The doctor will likely know if it is a minor issue or if further testing is needed.

Imaging tests may be done if the pain is severe or is not going away as expected. Images of the spine and surrounding structures may be taken with:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

Treatment

Pain due to medical conditions, such as a fracture or arthritis, will be treated by managing the conditions.

In most cases, thoracic back pain will go away after giving the area time to recover. Major treatment, such as surgery, is rarely helpful.

Treatment options include:

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of thoracic back pain:

  • Exercise regularly to keep your back strong and flexible.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Get up, stretch, and move around frequently.
  • Practice good posture to relieve spinal pressure.
  • Use proper technique when playing sports.
  • Use proper form when lifting objects.
  • Follow your treatment plan for chronic health conditions.
Close

Share this page with a friend