Understanding the Thoracic Spine

Unlike the lumbar and cervical portions of the spine, the thoracic region is built as a stabilizer. It is this spinal region that allows the body to maintain an upright posture while protecting the chest cavity and the vital organs it contains. The thoracic region extends from the top of the shoulder blades to the middle of the back, connecting the cervical and lumbar spine.

This region exhibits limited mobility in comparison to other areas of the spine due to its connections to the ribs. This area also contains thinner disc material between vertebrae, which lends to its relative inflexibility. While the region is considered more stable than the rest of the spine, injury, irritation, and degeneration may all contribute to persistent upper back pain.

Upper Back Pain

Pain in the thoracic spine is relatively common and may occur as the result of several factors. Vertebrae, joints, muscle, and connective tissue all have the potential for dysfunction and degeneration. Common culprits in upper back pain include:


Arthritis in the thoracic spine may result in tissue swelling, placing pressure on delicate spinal nerves. When cartilage tissue begins to deteriorate, bone spurs may develop, limiting mobility and increasing pain.

Herniated or Bulging Discs

Bulging or herniated discs are a source of intense pain in the spine and occur when disc material bulges or leaks from between the vertebrae. An estimated 70% of the population suffer from a variety of thoracic spine abnormalities. Although this figure is surprisingly high, many do not experience painful symptoms as a result.

Muscle Tension

Muscle tension is responsible for many cases of upper back pain. Inflamed, irritated or tense muscles may cause dull, aching, and persistent pain in the thoracic region. Since the muscles of the upper back and shoulders are quite massive, individuals may experience pain that radiates throughout the region.


Compression fractures are quite common in individuals suffering from osteoporosis. They are most commonly found in the lower portion of the thoracic spine due to bone degeneration. Chronic upper back pain may also be attributed to scoliosis, kyphosis, and joint dysfunction, although they are less common culprits.

The thoracic spine commonly has abnormalities that inflict chronic pain over a vast region. The pain experts at Marc Cohen Spine Institute can pinpoint the source of your chronic pain and pursue minimally-invasive treatment options per your request. Take the first step in alleviating your chronic pain you contact us to schedule your appointment today.