The mid back (thoracic spine) gets very little attention compared to the neck and lower back, because it by far the least likely area of the 3 to give you problems. It’s like the quiet, middle child, that gets ignored because everybody is focused on the trouble making, oldest and youngest children.
When you do have mid back pain though, it can be agonizing. I know from experience. Treatment for mid back pain is what led me down the path to chiropractic. Injuries to the area while playing football and wrestling while growing up, has led to advanced degenerative disc disease in my thoracic spine. Chiropractic, core strengthening and stretching keep me out of pain most of the time. I realize that I will have to continue these activities to stay out of pain, and even then, I’ll have periods of exacerbation. Knowledge is power though, and when I have those flare ups, I know how to manage them, and reduce the pain.
The mid back is made up of your thoracic spine, which has the same discs, joints, and ligaments that the neck and lower back have, but also have additional joints that attach the ribs. Because the thoracic spine is designed to move less than the cervical (neck) or lumbar spine (low back), it tends to be more stable, and therefore have fewer problems. But, just like in the cervical spine, those discs, joints, and ligaments have potential to create pain when dysfunction arises. The costovertebral joints (the joints attaching the ribs to the spine) can lead to some pretty severe pain as well. If you’ve ever had a severe, stabbing pain at a very focal point along the side of you thoracic spine while taking a deep breath in, it’s often one of your costovertebral joints. Your ribs move up and down every time you breathe. If you have a problem with a costovertebral joint and take a deep breath, you will be stressing the joint to the max, and it will tell you to stop by sending a pain signal up to your brain. You may have even heard a chiropractor tell you that you have a “rib out”. That is what they’re talking about. Chiropractic adjustments are fantastic at relieving rib joint pain!
The scapulae (shoulder blades) and the muscles surrounding them can also lead to mid back pain. The rotator cuff muscles and rhomboid muscles that move the support as well as move the scapulae can become strained, spasmed, and/or fatigued, leading to mid back pain.
Fractures are always a worry in the mid back. Trauma can lead to either a rib fracture or tearing of the connective tissue and nerves between the ribs that will give you to extreme pain that also increases with breathing in and out. This would not be helped by a chiropractic adjustment, so it’s important that the diagnosis is correct!
Osteoporosis (brittle bones) can happen to anyone, but is definitely more prevalent among older females. The little old ladies that are hunched way forward, with a sharply curved mid back, have also experienced fractures. The vertebrae of the thoracic spine have actually become so brittle that they fracture and collapse. A traditional chiropractic adjustment would be a bad idea with these ladies, but massage and other therapy techniques that I offer can give them quite a bit of relief.
I hear people mix up osteoporosis and osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) all the time! Please note that these are 2 very different conditions.
The most common reasons for mid back pain that I see are as follows:
- Long hours on a computer or at a desk
- Trauma from an auto accident, sports
- Weight lifting (too heavy, lose form, etc.)
- Pain referring into the mid back from an injury to the shoulder or neck
- A “rib is out”
- Having someone walk on your back or “pop” your back
Just like the other regions of the spine, treating the mid back with chiropractic, therapy, and/or massage can correct many of these problems that lead to pain. Please feel free to contact my office for an appointment.