Upper Thoracic Spine Symptoms

Updated July 19, 2017

Your thoracic spinal column consists of 12 vertebrae in the section of your back referred to as your upper back or middle back. The 12 vertebrae are known as T1 to T12. The thoracic column has different functions and structure than that of the lumbar, which is your lower back area, and the cervical, which is your neck area. The thoracic column is mainly responsible for protecting the organs in the chest area and providing stability to the body.


Kyphosis is the medical term to describe a abnormal curve in the spine. The thoracic spine naturally curves in a C-shape. A kyphotic deformity means the C-shape is curving forward too much. Kyphosis symptoms include nerve problems, severe deformity and chronic pain. It has several different causes. The abnormal curve can be congenital, which means it is preset at birth. Kyphosis also can be caused by severe trauma to the back or injury to the spine. The most common form is osteoporosis, a disease of the bones that leads to major loss of bone mass; the bones become more brittle and prone to fractures.

Thoracic Disc Herniation

The most common symptom of a thoracic disc hernia is pain, although some experience no pain at all. This pain usually is isolated to the upper back and is made worse by sneezing or coughing. Generally, hernias are rare and the thoracic discs are quite stable, although they can degenerate and wear down. Trauma to the upper back--such as car accidents, strong blows or a bad fall--also can cause disc degeneration. If the disc herniated into the spine, it can affect the spinal cord and make it dysfunctional. Symptoms of this include numbness, difficulty walking, balance problems and bladder or bowel issues.

Scheuermann's Disease

Also known as Sherman's disease, Calve disease and juvenile osteochondrosis. Scheuermann's disease is a condition in which the vertebrae grow unevenly. It typically results in a wedging shape of the vertebrae and causes kyphosis. The disease can range from mild to severe life-threatening deformity. In most cases, it simply causes a slight hunch in the upper back that is difficult to notice. Others may experience back pain and fatigue. The most severe cases may impair heart and lung function, which requires surgery. In extremely rare cases, a patient may experience neurological problems.

Joint Dysfunction

The ribs connect with the thoracic spine by two joints that connect on each side of the spine. When these joints don't function properly, it can cause upper back pain. This can be treated with manual manipulation, such as physiotherapy, to help mobilise the joint and reduce the pain. Stretching the spine and shoulders also will help with pain relief. Pain medication, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, also will relieve the discomfort.

Postural Thoracic Ache

There are many things that can cause postural thoracic ache, but they all result from holding your back in an abnormal position for a long period of time. This can happen from sitting in one place too long, sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress or when the equilibrium of the spine is unbalanced. Muscle spasms and pain are the most common symptoms of this condition because it causes an increase in the outgoing signals to the local spinal muscles. Stretching and moving the affected areas of the spine will help resolve postural thoracic ache.

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About the Author

Julie Martin has been writing articles since 2007 with much of her work being published on various websites. She has also written a variety of product reviews for several online companies. Martin is currently attending Globe University and working toward an associate degree in medical assisting.