Have you heard of the thoracic spine?
If not, I’m sure you have felt it before because it’s a very common cause of pain and discomfort that we treat in the physiotherapy clinic.
If you are experiencing pain in your mid or upper back, it is possibly stemming from the thoracic spine.
In fact, the thoracic spine can even sometimes be responsible for shoulder, chest, lower back and pelvic pain.
The thoracic spine is comprised of the twelve vertebrae that all of your twelve ribs attach to, forming what could be thought of as a cage that houses and protects your lungs and heart.
Due to this regions protective role, it makes sense that these vertebrae sit tightly together and provide far less movement than the vertebrae in your neck and lower back.
The thoracic spine also acts as an attachment point for a large number of muscles that control the shoulder blades.
Therefore, anything you do with your arms is being anchored by your thoracic spine.
It could be said that such a complex part of our body cannot be without its problems.
In the clinic, the most common complaint I get relating to dysfunction in the thoracic spine is “a nagging pain between the shoulder blades that I just can’t seem to stretch out.”
The subsequent examination often reveals dysfunction in one or more of the joints between the vertebrae or rib attachments to the vertebrae.
This dysfunction is generally accompanied by tight and tender muscles.
Another common situation is the complaint of shoulder or lower back pain that just doesn’t fit the usual story.
In this situation, patients are often surprised to find tenderness and dysfunction on examination of the thoracic spine that can also reproduce their shoulder or lower back pain.
If you are experiencing pain that you think may fit the above descriptions then the first thing you need to think about is your posture.
Whether you sit for prolonged periods of time at a desk, in front of a computer or in a vehicle? Or, if you have a job requiring repetitive lifting or reaching, it is crucial that your spine is in a stable, neutral posture.
Excessive forward bending at the lower and mid back, a forward head posture or shoulders that are rounded forward all put increased strain on the thoracic spine.
Being aware of your posture and taking frequent short breaks from your work can do wonders in preventing the onset of your pain.
A nice stretch for your thoracic spine is lying back over a tightly rolled up towel at about the level of your shoulder blades.
Stretch your hands up above your head and arch your back over the towel to feel a nice stretch at your mid back. This should not be painful
If it is, then make the rolled towel smaller or do the same stretch without the towel.
Obviously, chest and shoulder pain needs to be considered very carefully as a heart attack can present with similar symptoms. If you experience a sudden onset of pain in these areas that isn’t relieved by rest and has no known cause, it could indicate a medical emergency.