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Thoraic Spine – Poor Posture and Mid-back Pain

By fitnessforsmartpeople • Back, Exercise, Fitness, Sports Medicine, Thoracic Spine • 15 Aug 2011

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.

Image: Dark man by Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Shaun received her Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences with minors in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Delaware in 1994 and then completed a professional Masters of Physical Therapy also from the University of Delaware in 1997. Shaun has worked as an aerobic/group fitness instructor, a personal trainer, a massage therapist, an out-patient orthopedic physical therapist, and a consultant for an international credentialing agency that evaluates the educational documents of physical therapists educated overseas. She is currently an advisory board member for the Delaware Academy of Massage and Bodyworks and has taught continuing education for massage therapy practitioners. She also writes online fitness and nutrition articles and runs a blog titled Fitness for Smart People. Perhaps most importantly, Shaun is a mother of four who was forced to deal with a serious injury that left her with permanent nerve damage in her right foot. She understands the unique challenges we all face when trying to get and stay healthy.
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