Thoracic Spine Strain

The thoracic spine is the middle part of the back between the neck and the lower back. A thoracic spine strain is due to stretching and tearing of the muscle fibers that support the spine. This may happen because of severe coughing or heavy lifting. Or it may be caused by twisting injuries of the upper back, such as from a fall or a car or bike accident. 

A strain in the thoracic spine often causes more pain when you move or breathe deeply. This may take 3 to 6 weeks or longer to heal.

Home care

  • Rest. Don't do any heavy lifting or strenuous work. Don't do any activity that causes pain.

  • You may find relief with heat (hot shower, hot bath or heating pad) and massage. Or you may prefer cold packs. Try both and use the method that feels best for 20 minutes several times a day. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a clean, thin towel or cloth. Never put ice or an ice pack directly on your skin.

  • If you have a severe cough, use an over-the-counter cough medicine unless another cough medicine was prescribed.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicine to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen may work better than acetaminophen.

    Talk with your provider before using these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease, ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, or take blood thinners.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as directed.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have:

  • A change in the type of pain: if it feels different, becomes more severe, lasts longer, or begins to spread into your shoulder, arm, neck, jaw or back

Call 911

Call 911 if you have:

  • Shortness of breath or increased pain with breathing

  • Cough with dark colored sputum (phlegm) or blood

  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting

  • Numbness or weakness in 1 or both legs or arms

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