The thoracic spine and rib strain

In medical terms, the thorax is defined as the area of the body that is located between the abdomen and the neck. Within the thorax are the lungs, the heart, and the first section of the aorta (the largest artery in the body). In simple terms – it’s your chest cavity.

With us so far? Now let’s dig a little deeper…

The thorax contains the thoracic spine, which is not discussed as much as the neck and the lumbar spine, however it can cause some very painful issues. A lot of pain that is felt particularly in the upper thorax is referred from the neck joints, nerves, discs, etc. so not necessarily a true pain emanating from the thorax itself.

The thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae and starts at the base of the neck. The major difference between the cervical, lumbar spine and the thoracic spine is that the thoracic spine has ribs attached to it via two joints with each vertebra. The ribs and the spine not only protect the lungs and the heart, but it is also separated from the abdomen by the diaphragm (the primary muscle for respiration).

In order to survive, we need to keep breathing (obviously!) so those ribs that attach to the spine are hinged at their joints, and because ribs have to keep moving, they are generally more mobile. Therefore, when you do something active such as get out of bed, push a shopping trolley or pick up your child, you can strain a rib joint.

Anyone who has suffered from this can attest to how painful it is – the pain can radiate around the rib and travel through the chest almost like you are being pierced with a sword. In fact, some sufferers say it feels as though you are having a heart attack. Every breath, every cough and every sneeze can really hurt.

But don’t panic. The agony can easily be fixed by osteopathic manipulation and the muscle spasms can be eased via rib articulation and massage. Here at Not Just Backs we assess the mechanics of the thorax and beyond to see if we can prevent that rib strain from reoccurring.

Healing can take up to six weeks due to the ligament strain associated with the ribs. So although the initial acute pain can be reduced significantly after a couple of appointments, you need to follow your osteopath’s advice in the following weeks to prevent it from coming back. Generally the key is to increase the movement in the thoracic spine so the ribs do not have to do all the work in that area.


If you have any of the symptoms mentioned in this blog, why not call us on 01722 512 043 for a thorough assessment, diagnosis and treatment.





Share this Post:

Please add a comment

You must be logged in to leave a reply.