Thoracic Back Pain - Diagnosis, Treatment and Outlook

Authored by Dr Laurence Knott, 16 Jun 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Adrian Bonsall, 16 Jun 2017

If it's a short-lived mild pain with an obvious explanation (for example, it came on after you took part in a tug-of-war contest), your doctor will probably suggest some treatment before arranging tests.

However, because back pain is more likely to be serious if it occurs in the thoracic area rather than in your neck or lower back, your doctor is likely to suggest tests if the pain persists, is severe, or is accompanied by any of the 'red flag' features mentioned in the Symptoms section.

The tests will depend on the conditions that the doctor wants to rule out. It's likely to include blood tests such as a full blood count and inflammatory markers, and maybe a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. An ordinary 'plain' X-ray doesn't give much information unless you have an unusual appearance of the spine or a fracture is suspected.

  • You may not need any treatment as many cases settle down without it.
  • If you have an underlying cause, this will need treatment of its own accord.
  • If the pain is coming from a joint in the spine (a facet joint) this may be helped by an injection performed under X-ray vision (imaging-guided intra-articular injection).
  • Surgery which opens the covering of the spinal canal (a procedure called laminectomy) to treat a slipped disc causing thoracic spine pain can be a dangerous operation. However, a less risky technique involving surgery through the skin (percutaneous thoracic intervertebral disc nucleoplasty) is sometimes performed.

The outlook (prognosis) depends on the underlying cause, your age and your general fitness.

Many cases settle down in a few weeks but it should be remembered that pain in the thoracic spine is more likely than pain in the neck or lower back to have a serious cause.

Further reading and references

Hi, I'm a 16 year old female and I have been suffering from back and foot pain on and of for about 3 years. I do not know if the problems are related as they do not occur at the same time.Back pain:...

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