In our last blog we reviewed back pain as a whole, but it’s important to gain a more in-depth understanding of pain that occurs in the upper and middle back. This includes the area of your back that extends from the base of your neck to the bottom of your rib cage.
Upper and middle back pain isn’t quite as common as pain experienced in the lower back, simply because the bones in this area aren’t required to flex as much as those in the lower back and neck areas. However, the upper and middle back does work in conjunction with the ribs to help maintain back stability and provide much-needed protection to vital organs like the heart and lungs. The ribs attach to the spine in the back, and to the sternum (breast bone) in the front, forming this protective “cage”.
The upper and middle back, known as the thoracic spine, is comprised of 12 vertebrae and, as such, makes up the longest part of your back. Just like in other areas of the back, there are discs that separate each vertebra and serve as shock absorbers. There is also a multitude of muscles and ligaments working in conjunction to hold the spine together.
Some of the most common causes of thoracic back pain are pressure on the spinal nerves due to a herniated disc or other injuries; arthritis, which causes a breakdown of the cartilage that helps to cushion the joints; and/or myofascial pain related to the connective tissue of muscles. Sometimes pain felt in this area of the back can be due to non-spine related ailments like gallbladder disease or a kidney infection. Nerves that are pinched, irritated, or injured in this particular area of the back can be felt in other places like the hands, arms, chest, and abdomen. Note that if you’re experiencing chest pain, you need to see a doctor right away. Certain testing can be done to determine if the pain you’re feeling is due to a heart attack.
If upper and middle back pain is something that you’re dealing with, consider visiting with your orthopaedic surgeon. After getting to the root of your back pain, your doctor may suggest treatment ranging from a few days of rest and over-the-counter pain medication to manual therapy, which would include things like massage and physical therapy.