Spinal pain: symptoms, causes and treatment
Updated: January 2020
Made up of vertebrae, inter-vertebral discs, muscles, and ligaments, your spine is a complex structure that supports your entire body. Its complexity and its central role explain the numerous types of pain that can affect your spine. These can be classified into three groups. If the pain comes from the cervical spine (the top part of your spine), it is known in medical terms as cervicalgia. If the pain is located in the thoracic spine (the middle part of your spine), it is referred to as thoracic or middle back pain. Finally, if the pain comes from the lumbar spine (the bottom part of your spine), we call it lumbar, or lower back pain, and this is the most common type.
Symptoms of spinal pain
Pain in the thoracic spine can manifest itself in various ways. It can be acute or chronic, diffuse or localised; it can radiate sideways from your shoulder blade, toward your ribs or sternum (breastbone), into your pelvis, buttocks or legs, and can sometimes make you feel like you cannot move.
Causes of spinal pain
The cause of spinal pain is usually mechanical, and linked to a physical injury or condition (e.g. torticollis or ‘wry neck’, acute lumbago, or a slipped disc), or arthritis. It could also be due to scoliosis, when the spine is twisted. Sometimes, it can have a psychological cause such as stress, which is often responsible for chronic pain, or it can be a sign of a more serious condition such as an infection or a tumour. In all cases, pain in the thoracic spine can become extremely debilitating and should be treated, especially if it persists.
Treating spinal pain
If the pain in your spine is acute and benign, your doctor may prescribe a short period of rest, along with painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs if necessary. For chronic pain, your doctor may recommend osteopathy (e.g. spinal manipulation, lower back stretches), as well as muscle-strengthening exercises or activities such as swimming or yoga, particularly if the pain has a mechanical cause. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended as a last resort. Finally, there are some other, drug-free methods of treating pain, such as acupuncture or the OMRON HeatTens range of pain relievers, which combine soothing heat and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS).
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