The thoracic spine (mid back) is made for stability. It will not move as well as the neck or low back. This allows for strong muscle attachments and forms a protective ring around our vital organs. While this may be a good thing for our organs it also means that joint pain, described as the feeling of stiffness in the mid back, is very common.
Symptoms of joint pain in the mid back
The symptoms of joint pain in the thoracic spine may include pain that is made worse when the joint is moved or sustained postures that place pressure over the joints. An example of this would be sitting. If there is pain in the thoracic spine associated with breathing, this may mean something more serious is going on and a chiropractic or physiotherapy consult should be considered. Joint pain can present in several different ways including:
- Locking of the joint
- Loss of range of motion of the joint
Causes of joint pain in the mid back
In most cases, joint pain in the mid back is not serious. Joint pain can be caused by injury affecting any of the ligaments, bursae, or tendons surrounding the joint. Injury can also affect the ligaments, cartilage, and bones within the joint. Injury can be acute (i.e., sudden) like a fall, or chronic (i.e., longstanding) like a previous injury or osteoarthritis. On the other hand, joint pain can be due to a more serious pathological cause like an infection or cancer.
Join pain comprises 2 broad categories:
- Mechanical or non-specific. These include generally non-serious injuries (e.g., sprains) and osteoarthritis
- Pathological. These can be more serious causes of joint pain and include infections (e.g., Mycobacterium tuberculosis), autoimmune (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout), fractures and dislocations, tumours and cancers, and non-neoplastic disease (e.g., intervertebral disc herniation, bakers cyst, bursitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome).
With any case of joint pain, there are several key signs and symptoms that your clinician should identify to rule out a serious cause to the pain. These include:
- Resting pain or pain that is worse with inactivity compared to being physically active
- Morning stiffness and pain and pain that wakes the patient up at night
- Joints appear red, hot, swollen and sometimes disfigured
- Multiple joints in the body are affected
- The patient feels fatigued and unwell
- Body organs may be affected like the eyes, lungs and blood vessels
- A family history or previous history of pathological joint disease
- Bowel or bladder changes
Treatments for joint pain in the mid back
The treatment for joint pain in the mid back will largely be determined by its cause. If the joint has lost motion and is restricted a chiropractor or physiotherapist will likely recommend joint mobilisations and manipulations to improve the quality of movement. If the joint pain is due to something more serious, such as a herniated disc or inflammatory arthritis then this will prompt other treatments such as McKenzie Method, strengthening exercises and postural advice. Regardless of the cause, our clinicians at Sydney Spine & Sports Centre (S3C) Balmain specialise in the treatment of joint problems in the spine and will give you the gold standard of care.
For more information on joint pain, stiffness and pathology, please follow the links to our blog pages:
- Sports Chiropractic For Knee Osteoarthritis
- Sports Chiropractic For Osgood Schlatter Disease
- Sports Chiropractic for AC Joint Injuries
- Clinical Considerations for Shoulder Instability
- Rehabilitation after Shoulder Replacement Surgery
- Spinal Stiffness: Clinical Relevance & Management Strategies
- Tissue Injury and Factors Affecting Recovery
- How Chiropractors Treat Back Pain
- When to Worry About Back Pain
- Back Pain: What Causes It?
- Disc Herniation: What is Happening?