The Truth About Cervical and Thoracic Spine Pain

Sep 5, 2023 | Pain Management

Life with chronic pain can be a challenging journey, especially when the pain originates from essential parts of the body such as the cervical and thoracic spine. Understanding the nature, causes, and treatments for this pain can provide patients with better management and improved quality of life.

Let’s dive deeper into cervical and thoracic spine pain and what options are available for treating it effectively. 

Understanding Cervical and Thoracic Pain

What Is Cervical Spine Pain?

Cervical spine pain, commonly known as neck pain, arises from issues in the seven vertebrae that make up the cervical section of the spine. This pain can range from mild discomfort to debilitating pain that limits or prevents normal daily function.

What Is Thoracic Spine Pain?

Thoracic spine pain is felt in the upper and mid-back, where the twelve thoracic vertebrae are located. It’s less common than lower back or neck pain due to the stability provided by the rib cage but can be equally impairing when it occurs.

Common Causes of Cervical and Thoracic Spine Pain

Understanding the causes of this pain can help identify potential triggers, provide optimal treatment, and help patients take steps to prevent it from happening again. Let’s take a look at the most common causes of cervical and thoracic spine pain.

Accidents and Injuries

Injuries during sports, car accidents, or falls can cause acute or chronic spinal pain. Whiplash, for example, is a common neck injury resulting from sudden, forceful movement.

Aging and Degenerative Diseases

Aging naturally brings degenerative changes to the spine that can cause chronic pain. Conditions like osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease often manifest in older adults.

Lifestyle Factors

Poor posture, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and stress can contribute to both cervical and thoracic spine pain.

Symptoms of Cervical and Thoracic Spine Pain

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms may include pain that radiates to shoulders or arms (cervical), chest or abdomen (thoracic), limited range of motion, muscle weakness, numbness or tingling in extremities.

Emotional and Psychological Impact

Chronic pain affects the body more than physically — it can also lead to anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and decreased quality of life.

Diagnosis of Cervical and Thoracic Spine Pain

Proper diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment. The steps that medical practitioners take to diagnose cervical and thoracic spine pain include: 

Medical History and Physical Examination

Your doctor will first consider your medical history and perform a physical examination to assess your condition. You can expect them to ask questions about your condition, including how often the pain occurs, how long it’s persisted, and how intense it feels. 

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests like X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans provide detailed images of your spine to help identify abnormalities.

Other Diagnostic Procedures

In some cases, nerve conduction studies or discography may be recommended for cervical and thoracic spine pain conditions. 

Treatment Options for Cervical and Thoracic Spine Pain

A variety of treatments exist to suit different severity levels and underlying causes, such as:

Non-Surgical Treatments

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy techniques strengthen muscles and improve posture to relieve pressure on affected areas. Typically, physical therapy lasts weeks or months and may be combined with other treatments.

Medications

Over-the-counter or prescription medications can help manage pain. These may include NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, or opioids for severe cases. While helpful, medications may come with undesirable side effects, including addiction. 

Lifestyle Modifications

Simple changes like regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking can make a significant difference in the intensity of a person’s chronic pain as well as their body’s ability to manage it.

Minimally Invasive Treatments

If conservative therapies are ineffective at eliminating or reducing a patient’s pain, doctors often refer patients to a pain management specialist for additional treatment. These minimally invasive (non-surgical) treatments include: 

Corticosteroid Injections

Cortisone injections are a type of injection that can help relieve pain and inflammation in a specific area of the body. They are most commonly injected into joints, such as the ankle, elbow, hip, knee, shoulder, spine, or wrist. Even the small joints in the hands or feet might benefit from cortisone shots.

Radio-Frequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses radio waves to create heat and destroy tissue. RFA can treat chronic pain in the back, neck, joints, and other areas. It works by destroying the nerves that transmit pain signals to the brain. RFA procedures often provide relief for several months or even years.

Nerve Blocks

A nerve block is an injection of medication that numbs or blocks the nerves that transmit pain signals to the brain. There are different types of nerve blocks, including epidural blocks, spine blocks, and nerve root blocks.

Trigger Point Injections

A trigger point injection involves injecting a local anesthetic and sometimes a corticosteroid into a trigger point, which is a knot of muscle tissue that is associated with pain.

Tips for Living With Cervical and Thoracic Spine Pain

Living with chronic pain requires adopting strategies that help manage symptoms effectively. With the guidance of your care provider, consider the following techniques for managing cervical and thoracic spine pain. 

Relaxation Techniques

Mind-body techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can help manage pain by reducing stress levels.

Exercise and Movement

Regular low-impact activities like walking or swimming can keep your spine healthy without exacerbating your condition.

Sleeping Position

Choose a supportive pillow and mattress that aligns your spine properly. Sleeping on your back or side usually works best for people with spinal pain.

Diet and Nutrition

A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D helps maintain bone health while managing weight to reduce pressure on the spine.

Emotional Support and Mental Health Care

Consider counseling or joining a support group to navigate the emotional challenges of living with chronic pain.

Treat Cervical and Thoracic Spine Pain With HPM

HPM treats a wide variety of chronic pain conditions including cervical and thoracic spine pain. Our certified pain specialists work diligently to identify the true source of your pain and provide the best possible treatment to reduce pain. 

Contact HPM today to find a clinic near you. We are dedicated to helping you overcome chronic pain and reclaim your life.