The thoracic spine is the part of the spine that extends from the upper part of the lower back up to the neck.
There are a total of 12 thoracic vertebrae, from which a pair of ribs emanate on each side, which extend forward to and attach to the sternum and thereby form the ribcage.
Pain from this part of the spine is frequent and the degree of symptoms can vary from a mild feeling of tightness, tension and/or the sensation of stiffness locally in the back to violent, chasing or stabbing pain.
The symptoms can creep in slowly or appear suddenly in connection with a "wrong" movement, they can also occur without any triggering cause. The pain can sit locally in the back or pull around one or both sides of the chest like a band. In addition, the pain can sit deep in the chest, extend into an arm or up the side of the neck and remind a lot of pain from the heart (angina).
Often the reason for the uncomfortable condition is that some of the small joints between the vertebrae in the spine, which control the small movements of the back, or the rib joints themselves have come out of an extreme position and triggered a local spasm (in and around the joints) which thereby locks themselves.
A vicious circle can quickly arise, in which the joints lock, the muscles tense up to limit the extent of the damage but can locally lead to increased joint locking and thus increased pain in the joint(s) involved.
By taking a general medical history and a thorough physical examination, the chiropractor can rule out more serious conditions as the cause of the pain. Therefore, it is often quick and easy to reassure the patient that the pain is out of proportion to the injury.
The acute pain in the back of the chest is often called in the vernacular "a witch's shot" or "a hold in the back". The doctor's diagnosis will usually be "a facet joint syndrome". The chiropractor will use the diagnosis: biomechanical dysfunction, which means that one or more joints, and surrounding structures such as muscles, tendons, nerves and connective tissue, have locked or do not function optimally together. This is not an actual state of damage.
There can be many causes of locking or tension in the thoracic spine. E.g., psychological stress of any kind, bad or inappropriate working positions over a long period of time, a sudden banal movement, lifting or pulling. Often the pain arises from a common movement that has been performed many times before and which otherwise has never given rise to problems.
It is important to understand that it was not the individual movement that caused the sudden onset of symptoms – it was just the straw that made the cup run over. Prior to this, the area has been "in bad working order" - or tense, most likely for a long time.
The treatment by a chiropractor is first and foremost to de-dramatize the problem for the patient, as the pain can be quite significant and cause a lot of concern, and to encourage movement. Movement overcomes the vicious cycle. At the same time, joint-freeing manipulation, pressure and stretching of tight muscles will be able to restore normal function and stop the vicious circle.
Back pain is very unpleasant but rarely dangerous and often very thankfully/quickly treated by a chiropractor.
What can you do yourself?
- Ice or heat on blocked/painful area.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers (Ipren and/or Panodil).
- Light movement to the extent possible.
A combination of the three above tips can be of great help.