Thoracic degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis, is a term used to describe a degenerative condition in the middle of the back (thoracic spine).

The thoracic spine connects directly to the rib cage and helps protect major organs, such as the heart, lungs and liver. Thoracic vertebrae do not have the same range of motion as vertebrae in other parts of the spine, so they are at a lower risk of developing degenerative spine conditions.

Although the thoracic spine is less likely to deteriorate compared to the cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) regions, it is not immune to degeneration and damage from arthritic changes, general wear and tear of the joints over time, repetitive stress injuries (e.g., lifting or carrying heavy loads), or a sudden fall or trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident.

Individuals who suffer from thoracic degenerative joint disease may experience these symptoms:

  • Back pain at the location of the affected joint
  • Pain that radiates to the rib cage or trunk of the body
  • Localized swelling, redness and tenderness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty bending backward, standing and walking
  • Difficulty sitting for extended periods
  • Stiffness in the joints after a period of rest

Treatment of thoracic degenerative joint disease will depend on the extent of your symptoms and how long you have had them. The Lancaster Orthopedic Group spine specialists offer a wide range of therapies and treatments for spine conditions and can help relieve your symptoms.

Conservative treatment options for thoracic degenerative joint disease include rest, ice and/or moist heat, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, steroid injections, facet joint injections, braces to support the spine, and physical therapy. Surgery may be recommended for patients with persistent pain, spinal instability or nerve root entrapment.