Thoracic Pain

Thoracic pain is pain that occurs in the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is located at the back of the chest (the thorax), mostly between the shoulder blades. It extends from the bottom of the neck to the start of the lumbar spine, roughly at the level of the waist.


Who gets Thoracic spine pain?

Surveys to find out how many people have thoracic spine pain produce very variable results. For example, when asked whether they have ever had thoracic spine pain, one survey reported a result of 4 out of a 100 people, whilst another said 72 people out of 100. It appears to be at its most common in children and teenagers, especially girls. Factors cited as causing thoracic back pain included backpack use, the height of school chairs, and difficulties with homework. Mental health problems seemed to be an associated factor. It also appeared to be common in the transition period between the early teens and late adolescence. Adults with thoracic back pain often have aches and pains elsewhere as well as difficulties going about their daily tasks.


Symptoms of Thoracic pain

Thoracic spine pain is common, short-lived and of little consequence. However, it is also more likely than neck pain or low back pain to have a serious cause.


Causes of Thoracic pain

The most common cause of thoracic back pain is inflammation of the muscles or soft tissues of the thoracic spine. This inflammation can occur for a number of reasons:

  • A sudden sprain or strain (as in car accidents or sports injuries).
  • Sitting or standing in a slouched position over time.
  • Using a backpack.
  • Sitting for a long time at a computer.
  • Lack of muscular strength (couch potatoes beware!).
  • Repeating a movement persistently that involves the thoracic part of the spine (as in sport or work): also called overuse injury.

Treatment of Thoracic pain

  • If the pain is coming from a joint in the spine (a facet joint) this may be helped by an injection performed under X-ray vision (imaging-guided intra-articular injection).
  • Surgery which opens the covering of the spinal canal (a procedure called laminectomy) to treat a slipped disc causing thoracic spine pain can be a dangerous operation. However, a less risky technique involving surgery through the skin (percutaneous thoracic intervertebral disc nucleoplasty) is sometimes performed.

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