Thoracic Sprain

by Carol Gomes

The thoracic spine is located between the base of the neck and the bottom of the rib cage. Injury to the ligament, which is the connecting tissue of the bones, is called a sprain, and injury to the muscle is known as a strain. An injury to the ligaments in the mid-back causes a thoracic sprain.

What is a Thoracic Sprain

The thoracic spine is supported by ligaments, tendons and muscles. They enable the back to perform lateral movement. When these ligaments get torn or damaged due to activities such as heavy lifting, twisting of the back, stress due to sudden force, it results in muscle pain. A thoracic sprain can limit the mobility of the thoracic region as well as the motion of the ribs. Even though a thoracic sprain can occur in all age groups, it is prevalent among working age groups.

Usually, the cause of back pain may be an injury. Overuse, poor posture, and trauma are common causes of thoracic back pain. The sore, inflamed muscles results in achy diffused pain and reduces the range of motion. In certain cases, thoracic back pain can be a sign of an undiagnosed disease like non-musculoskeletal diseases and non-orthopedic conditions like heart disease, kidney problems, etc.

Symptoms of a Thoracic Sprain

A sudden onset of back pain during causative activities is the prime symptom of a thoracic sprain. Depending on the severity of the injury, symptoms of thoracic sprain can vary. First degree sprains are mild and cause little pain. Muscle spasms and joint instability are causes with second degree sprains. Third degree sprains result from a completely torn ligament. The common symptoms of thoracic pain include the following:

  • Mid-back pain
  • Instability and weakness
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness of the neck and back
  • Decreased mobility of the thoracic region
  • Pain can be exacerbated when taking a deep breath or coughing


Most thoracic sprains result from overstretched ligaments in the back and are caused by

  • Heavy lifting
  • Twisting motions
  • Sports activities
  • Poor posture
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • A fall


Conservative treatment includes massages, physiotherapy, acupuncture, medications, and chiropractic manipulation, which are said to be very effective in treating a thoracic spine sprain. A thoracic spine sprain can be diagnosed by performing detailed examination. The doctor will ask questions related to symptoms, such as the first manifestaions of the symptoms, the activities that aggravate the symptoms, etc. In order to rule out fractures, an x-ray or a MRI is recommended. Once a thoracic sprain is diagnosed, it can be treated conservatively.

Mild sprains will heal with rest, and over-the-counter medications help to alleviate pain. Anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers are prescribed to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Limiting activities that cause pain helps to ease the condition. Although the initial course of rest is necessary to treat sprains, inactivity should not be prolonged. Applying ice for first 48 hours and heat thereafter can help to reduce pain and inflammation.

If initial treatment does not work, physiotherapy is initiated. Exercises help to prevent a re-injury and can strengthen the muscles of the mid-back.

Prevention Tips

  • Proper posture is vital to lessen the stress to the back.
  • Regular exercise can strengthen the muscles and ligaments.
  • Select backbone-friendly chairs
  • Wear a seat belt when traveling
  • Wear protective equipment during sports activities
  • When lifting heavy items make sure that you follow the proper technique

These are some protective measures which can preserve the spine from injury. Consult a doctor if back pain persists or worsens.


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