Thoracic Back Pain



The back has many small bones, muscles, and soft tissues that surround and protect the spinal cord. Nerves also leave the spinal cord in the back. Thoracic back pain may be caused by stress, strain, or injury to any of these structures, such as:

  • Muscle strains
  • Ligament sprains
  • Gradual wear and tear of tissue
  • Fractures of the vertebra (spinal bones)
  • Nerve compression—pressure on nerves that exit the spine may be caused by problems with muscles, bones, or disc between vertebra
  • A herniated disc—damage to cushions that sit between the vertebra
  • An imbalance of muscles that support the spine

Rarely, thoracic back pain may be caused by more serious problems like an infection in the spine, heart or lung problems, or cancer.

Herniated Thoracic Disc
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Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of thoracic back pain are:

  • Trauma
  • Activities or jobs that require sitting for long periods of time
  • Repetitive motion
  • Poor posture
  • Lack of physical activity

These health problems may also raise the risk of this type of back pain:

  • Osteoporosis, which raises the risk of fractures
  • Spinal stenosis—narrowing of the spinal canal
  • Degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis
  • Past surgery or back injury



The symptoms a person has and how long they last depend on the cause. Problems may come and go or happen all the time.

Problems with muscle or soft tissue may cause:

  • Sharp pain
  • Spasms
  • Throbbing or aching pain
  • Weakness or fatigue

Nerve problems may cause:

  • Burning
  • Tingling and numbing feelings
  • Shooting pain
  • Weakness in an area affected by a nerve


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the back.

Pictures may be taken for pain that is severe or not going away. This can be done with:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan



Any underlying causes will need to be treated. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms to give the back time to heal. Treatments may include:

  • Resting the back for 1 to 2 days
  • Limiting activities that cause pain
  • Medicine to ease pain, such as over the counter pain medicine and muscle relaxants
  • Physical therapy to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion

Most people are not helped by surgery.


To lower the risk of thoracic back pain:

  • Engage in regular physical activity to keep the back strong and flexible.
  • Do not sit for long periods of time.
  • Practice good posture to ease pressure on the back.
  • Use proper methods when playing sports.
  • Use proper form when lifting objects.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.