Your thoracic spine has quite limited movement compared with your cervical (upper back) spine and your lumbar (lower back) spine because the ribs attach to it and it protects all of your vital organs which are located within the ribcage and thoracic spine. The thoracic spine assists with breathing and lots of muscles attach to this part of the spine.
Having good mobility and posture at the thoracic spine is very important for preventing injury and enhancing recovery. Physiotherapy is an effective treatment for thoracic joint stiffness and can reduce your time spent out of work or out of sports.
What is joint stiffness?
Joint stiffness is the inability to easily mobilise certain joints as they have become stiff. Joint stiffness is very common and can occur with or without pain. Thoracic joint stiffness will have an effect on your neck posture, potentially causing pain and headaches. It can also affect your breathing, shoulder movement and lumbar spine movement.
What causes joint stiffness?
A lot of our time is spent hunched over, for example if working at a desk or on a computer all day.
There are a few different reasons we get a stiff thoracic spine including:
- Driving for long periods
- Being in an awkward position when breastfeeding
- Long periods hunched over reading or at a desk
- Being in the foetal position whilst sleeping
- Poor technique when performing exercises such as dead lifts, plank position and sit ups
Other conditions including osteoporosis and ankylosing spondylitis will too affect your thoracic spine mobility.
All of these activities lead to an increased bend in the thoracic spine (kyphosis) but will reduce the overall amount of movement which will have consequences on other structures.
What are the symptoms of joint stiffness?
Joint stiffness is associated with decreased movement at the thoracic spine and may be painful. You may also have more of a hunched posture and movement in your upper and lower back may be increased to compensate for the decreased movement at your thoracic region.
How is joint stiffness diagnosed?
Your physiotherapist will carry out a full subjective and objective examination to determine whether you have thoracic joint stiffness or something else is causing your symptoms. Sometimes you may need a scan such as an MRI scan to determine if there is something else causing your symptoms.
What treatment can Farrell Physiotherapy offer for joint stiffness?
Following on from your assessment your physiotherapist will provide you with an individual treatment programme based on what was found on assessment.
- Joint mobilisations
- Joint manipulations
- Soft tissue massage
- Range of movement and stretching exercises
- Postural exercises
- Strengthening exercises
- Graded return to activity
Benefit of physiotherapy for joint stiffness?
There are several benefits of seeking physiotherapy for joint stiffness.
- Increased range of movement
- Decreased stiffness
- Decreased pain
- Increased function
- Improved sporting activity
- Prevention of injury