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Thoracic Pain
Pain in the Chest or Upper Back - Possibly a Spine Problem

Thoracic Pain Facts and Information

  • Thoracic pain starts in the upper part of the body — also known as the thorax.
  • The thorax is an area rich in nerves, organs, blood vessels, bones, and muscles. Pain can start in any of these.
  • Anyone with a severe lung infection, a “slipped” disc in the upper back, or a rib fracture has experienced thoracic pain.

Why Thoracic Pain Starts

Thoracic pain (especially pain in the upper back) is often linked to the thoracic spine.

The thoracic spine connects the neck to the low back. Pain in the thoracic spine can start after a trauma or an overuse injury in people who perform hard labor. Although not a cause for alarm, thoracic spine problems should be evaluated by a pain specialist.

Occasionally, thoracic pain can be a red flag for a heart attack, a lung injury, or a problem with any vital organ in the thorax.

These issues require a visit to the hospital and are not treated by pain specialists.

Contact National Spine & Pain Centers to schedule an appointment with an affiliated pain specialist today.

Pain in the Thoracic Spine

Most people with spine problems complain of pain in the neck or lower back. These two areas of the spine are under a lot of strain due to frequent twisting movements in the body.

While less likely to experience strain, the thoracic spine can still cause considerable pain. In fact, over a one-year period, 1 in 3 adults is likely to have thoracic pain due to a spine problem.

Problems with the thoracic spine are treated by pain specialists.

They include:

  • Muscle strain
  • Herniated “slipped" discs
  • Aged discs (degenerative disc disease)
  • Ligament injuries
  • Pinched or irritated nerves
  • Arthritic joints
  • A narrowed spinal canal (spinal stenosis)
  • Collapsed backbones (vertebral compression fracture)

In addition to thoracic spine problems, pain specialists also treat:

  • Shingles
  • Chronic pain after thoracic surgery

Symptoms of Thoracic Pain

Symptoms depend on the exact problem and the place in the thorax where it starts.

Some examples:

  • Tense muscles - general ache over a wider area
  • Irritated or pinched nerve - electric shocks in the arm(s)
  • Shingles - rash and burning pain in a band pattern over the torso
  • Backbone fracture - sharp pain in the upper back

A Diagnosis for Thoracic Pain

At first, a doctor’s evaluation is needed to rule out a thoracic emergency. Then, a visit to a pain specialist may be recommended.

An evaluation from a pain specialist includes a patient’s medical history and a physical exam.

The following tests are useful:

  • Xray
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Nerve blocks (injections that help find the source of pain)

Treatments for Thoracic Pain

Initial treatment for thoracic spine pain includesover-the-counter medications, thoracic spine stretches, massage, and physical therapy.

Pain specialists provide a variety of outpatient procedures for fast-acting pain relief.

To find out how an affiliated pain specialist can help, click on the procedures below.

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