While the thoracic (middle back) region of the spine is less susceptible to age-related degenerative disorders than the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions, conditions such as degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis can develop. This is particularly true if the thoracic spine has been subjected to traumatic injury, which can exacerbate the deterioration of the spine’s anatomical components. The joints between the vertebrae, known as facet joints, gradually wear down as we age. A reduction in the body’s ability to produce synovial fluid, which provides joint lubrication, also is a byproduct of the aging process.
Nonsurgical treatment options
Ultimately, worn joint cartilage can expose the small nerves that serve the joint, which produces the dull ache that is so painfully familiar to individuals with arthritis. Bone-on-bone grinding also causes discomfort and reduces spinal stability, which can lead to the growth of osteophytes (bone spurs). Should a bone spur begin to irritate or compress an adjacent thoracic nerve root or the spinal cord itself, radiculopathic symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness can strike the chest wall, the abdomen or other parts of the body innervated by the affected thoracic nerve.
More often than not, symptoms associated with thoracic arthritis of the spine can be managed using conservative, non-surgical treatment options. These include:
- Over-the-counter pain medications and/or anti-inflammatory medications
- Prescription narcotic medicine
- Prescription nerve pain medicine
- Prescription muscle relaxers
- Cortisone injections
Other methods of conservative therapy include heat/ice, traction, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, bracing, exercise and behavior modification. In addition, some with spinal arthritis swear by the effectiveness of alternative treatments such as chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture.