What Is Thoracic Pain?

Thoracic pain, also known as middle back pain or upper back pain, is much less common than lower back pain or neck pain. If you suffer from thoracic back pain, you’re likely looking for relief. We can help. This article discusses the most common thoracic pain causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatments for finding relief.

Frequently thoracic back pain has a benign musculoskeletal origin, but may indicate a more serious underlying problem. The word thoracic means “pertaining to the chest” hence the thoracic spine forms the back of the chest wall. With markedly less mobility than the cervical spine above and lumbar spine below, the thoracic spine’s main function is to provide protection for the vital organs in the chest, such as the heart and lungs, as well as allow stability for standing upright.

Thoracic Pain | PainDoctor.com

Even though the majority of thoracic spine pain is harmless, when the following symptoms are present you should consider seeking medical attention:

  • History of a recent infection
  • Temperature over 100° F
  • IV drug use, which increases risk of an infectious cause
  • Unexplained weight loss, which may be associated with cancer

When the following symptoms are present with thoracic back pain, you should seek emergency care:

  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Prior history of cancer
  • Recent significant trauma such as a fall from a height or motor vehicle accident

How many people suffer from thoracic spine pain?

Back pain, itself, is a very pervasive condition. It’s expected that almost everybody in the U.S. — close to 80-90% of people — will experience back pain at some time in their life. Finding out how many people suffer from thoracic, or thorax pain, can be difficult. This is because there are different definitions of what thoracic pain is for different patients.

According to a review quoted by Patient.Info, however, up to 20% of people may suffer from this type of pain in their lifetime.

Thoracic Pain Causes

There are many probable causes of thoracic spine pain. Many of these occur due to daily habits, repetitive movements, or weaknesses in back muscles. Other causes may include spinal stenosis or hematomas. Diseases of the spinal column like a compression fracture, tumor, and scoliosis can also cause more thoracic pain.

Must Watch Video – Thoracic Back Pain Causes

Thoracic spondylosis is the result of abnormal wear and tear that causes gradual narrowing of the disc space and deformed bone growth (bone spurs). This combination leads to increased pressure on surrounding tissue and nerves causing pain, and possibly weakness, numbness in the arms or shoulders, and even headaches.

Arthritis, disc herniations, and other forms of pain that affect the discs of the spine may also cause thoracic spine pain.

Additional risk factors for thoracic pain include the following:

  • Age of 40 years or greater
  • History of injury
  • Deformities (scoliosis or kyphosis), arthritis, or narrowing of the spine
  • Poor posture or excessive sitting
  • Heavy physical work
  • Smoking or drug abuse
  • Poor physical condition and lack of exercise

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How To Relieve Thoracic Back Pain

The most common treatments for thoracic back pain symptoms are non-prescription medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or acetaminophen, especially for more acute cases of thoracic pain. For more chronic cases of pain, we recommend the following.

Thoracic pain exercises and physical therapy

Physical therapy, exercise, proper nutrition, and yoga may help provide long and short term relief of thoracic pain. As with all pain conditions, finding relief is often an effort that includes the mind and body. Focusing just on the pain itself is often ineffective for finding pain relief. Instead, we find that pain relief is best found by creating a comprehensive treatment plan that encourages the use of multiple treatment options, with a team of healthcare professionals helping to tackle your pain.

For example, you can:

Other more alternative and non-invasive treatment options for upper thoracic pain may include acupuncture, biofeedback therapy, or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Thoracic Pain | PainDoctor.com

Treatment options for chronic thoracic pain

If you suffer from chronic and severe thoracic pain, more interventional treatment options may be appropriate for your symptoms.

Chiropractic care for thoracic back pain can be an incredibly powerful treatment option. Chiropractic care is a noninvasive treatment option that has been shown to safe for the majority of patients, and is particularly beneficial for back pain patients.

Epidural steroid injections are also commonly used to treat degenerative and arthritic joint conditions, such as those caused by disc herniations. Often the goal of epidural steroid injections for thoracic back pain is to provide sufficient pain relief to permit more aggressive physical therapy and greater functional recovery. The procedure involves injecting a combination of a corticosteroid and local anesthetic under x-ray guidance into the epidural space, which is the space around the spinal cord. The steroids act at nerve roots as they branch from the spinal cord by decreasing inflammation and irritation.

Facet blocks are an injection of local anesthetic and steroid into the facet joint under X-ray guidance. This procedure is effective in treating arthritic pain of originating from the facet joints.

Spine surgery may also be necessary for certain extreme cases of thoracic spine pain. More powerful medications may also be prescribed by your physician for treating your pain, however, we typically discourage the use of opioids for chronic cases of back pain. You can read more about these reasons in the linked article.

Thoracic Pain | PainDoctor.com


Though rare, there are some conditions affecting the middle and upper back area that may require more than simple medication and exercise. If you are experiencing chronic or unusual thoracic pain, find a back pain doctor today for more information about how you can treat your pain.

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