Getting relief from any source of pain usually requires first identifying the source. When it comes to the back, the source of pain is not always obvious. That being said, a common cause of mid-back pain is poor prolonged postures and body mechanics that lead to joint stiffness and muscle strain.
Unlike the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (back) that have lordotic curves, the thoracic spine (mid-back) has a natural kyphotic curve. Because of its attachments to the rib cage, the mid-back is vulnerable to developing stiffness. Poor postures generally exacerbate mid-back stiffness and can lead to muscle strains, contributing to a dysfunction that when left unchecked results in pain with normal everyday activities.
It works like this. An abnormal posture like sitting slumped forward over your computer for hours on end can cause fatigue and/or overstretching and functioning weakening of the mid-back muscles while allowing tightness to develop in the chest muscles. The back muscles can become stiff and sore, developing areas known as trigger points. These trigger points are essentially unhealthy areas within the muscle that can cause pain at the site of the trigger point itself or refer pain to a distant site. Over time, stiffness in the facet joints of the thoracic spine can also develop, leading to an additional source of referred pain. These symptoms may overlap.
Massage can help to relieve trigger points and tightness within the muscles, while stretching, mobilization and even manipulation of the thoracic spine can help to restore normal motion. Addressing both muscle and joint stiffness is usually required to get long-term relief. In addition, patients need to correct the faulty postures and mechanics that caused the problem to begin with. This requires education on proper posture to promote increased awareness. In the case of a worker who is confined to a desk, proper chair and desk height, good computer placement and other ergonomic aids can help to prevent muscle fatigue and strain.
Because back pain is a complicated issue, each patient may be unique with respect to their symptoms and presentation. Consultation with a physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist, or other health practitioner that specializes in treating this type of problem is helpful in identifying the cause and getting relief.
To learn how to stretch and mobilize the thoracic spine/mid back read An Awesome Series of Stretches for the Thoracic Spine/Mid-back Region.
To learn more about the causes of Low-back Pain read Common Causes of Low-back Pain.
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