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Thoracic Spine Pain

The thoracic spine is a term used to indicate the middle section of the vertebral column and the ribcage. Pain arising from this area may be due to injury or spasm of the muscles around the thoracic vertebrae, the rib joints, the facet joints, or the thoracic discs.

Some of the common musculoskeletal causes of thoracic pain are described below.

Postural Tightness
One of the most common causes of thoracic spine pain is excessive time spent in a poor posture. With the increasing use of computers, a hunched sitting posture with rounded shoulders and a forward sitting head has become one of the main causes of thoracic spine pain.

Symptoms may include aching or burning across the shoulder blades, stiffness in the middle back, headaches, and muscle fatigue.

Physiotherapy can be very effective in managing this problem, with treatments such as massage, mobilisation, manipulation and taping able to quickly restore normal movement to the thoracic spine. Your physiotherapist will often give you stretching, mobility and strengthening exercises which are aimed at correcting your posture. Your physiotherapist is also able to advise you on ergonomic workstation setup.

Joint Sprain
A sprain of a facet or rib joint in the spine is often caused by sudden jarring or twisting movements, repetitive strain, or sometimes an awkward sleeping position.

People often complain of pain with rotational movements, side bending and may experience pain with taking a deep breath, coughing or sneezing. Pain may be isolated to either one side of the spine, both the left and right sides or pain may be felt centrally.

Physiotherapy treatment aims to restore mobility using joint mobilisation, manipulation, massage. Exercises may also be prescribed to restore movement to the affected joint/s and to correct any underlying biomechanical problem that may have predisposed those joints to injury.

Rib Fractures
Rib fractures are commonly caused by a traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident or a fall. These are often diagnosed on x-ray, and may be associated with a sharp pain on breathing or coughing. Your physiotherapist can advise you on appropriate exercises to perform while a fracture is healing, and may use may use manual treatment techniques to offload the area, and prevent any secondary musculoskeletal problems that may arise.

Scheuermann’s Disease
Scheuermann’s disease is a condition that commonly presents in adolescents, and more in males than females. It presents as an excessive forward curvature of the thoracic spine due to osteochondrosis of the vertebral end plates.