Osteochondrosis is one of the most common pathologies of the spine. It is believed that it develops mainly in the neck or lower back. After all, it is in these places that the spine is very mobile and undergoes great stress. But the sedentary lifestyle of most people and prolonged sitting at the table led to the fact that osteochondrosis of the thoracic spine began to occur more and more often. Although in many cases this pathology is not immediately diagnosed. After all, the peculiarity of thoracic osteochondrosis is that its symptoms are nonspecific and resemble many other pathologies.
This degenerative-dystrophic disease affects the intervertebral discs of the thoracic spine. This is due to a violation of metabolic processes, leading to thinning and drying out of the cartilage tissue. As a result, under the influence of physical exertion, the discs begin to collapse and lose their depreciation functions. The vertebrae, ligaments and joints in the spine are gradually affected. Nerve fibers and blood vessels can be impaired.
This process develops slowly, so the pathology is difficult to diagnose. Moreover, not everyone immediately goes to the doctor, because they do not know what the danger of thoracic osteochondrosis is. But without treatment, the disease can lead to serious complications. Since this part of the spine is responsible for the blood supply and innervation of the internal organs, with an advanced form of osteochondrosis of the thoracic spine, various pathologies can develop. Intestinal peristalsis, the work of the heart, liver, and digestive tract are disturbed. Pancreatitis, cholecystitis, biliary dyskinesia may appear. But most often complications appear in the spine. In addition to herniated intervertebral discs and intercostal neuralgia, spinal cord compression, spondylosis, sciatica, and postural disorders can develop.
Osteochondrosis of the thoracic spine is equally common in men and women. Its appearance does not even depend on age, although it was previously believed that degenerative-dystrophic diseases are characteristic only of the elderly. But modern youth has become increasingly suffering from osteochondrosis due to improper diet and a sedentary lifestyle.
It is believed that the most common osteochondrosis is cervical. Often, pathology also occurs in the lumbar region. This is due to the special structure of the skeleton. In the thoracic region, the spine is less mobile, as it is connected with the ribs and sternum.
The intervertebral discs are thinner here, and the vertebrae are located closer to each other. But this section is less susceptible to injury and other external influences, since part of the load is taken by the ribs and chest.
Osteochondrosis appears usually at the level of 7-11 vertebrae. In this case, the intervertebral discs are primarily affected. Most often, 1-2 segments of the spine are affected. But sometimes polysegmental osteochondrosis develops, in which several discs are destroyed at the same time. Rarely, pathology in this section occurs independently, usually combined with a lesion of the cervical or lumbar spine. In this case, the symptoms are more pronounced, so it becomes easier to diagnose the disease.
The peculiarity of thoracic osteochondrosis is that it rarely manifests itself with back pain after exertion, as it happens when it is localized in the cervical or lumbar spine. Pathology at the initial stage is confused with heart or pulmonary diseases. After all, pains are often localized in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, chills appear. But the manifestations of thoracic osteochondrosis are not very bright, therefore, patients do not always go to the doctor at the initial stage. Because of this, the pathology progresses.
The danger of thoracic osteochondrosis is that it is "disguised" as other diseases. Pathology develops slowly, rarely any of the patients see a doctor at the initial stage. Osteochondrosis begins with the thinning of the intervertebral disc. Its core flattens, the shell cracks and dries up, and the vertebrae come closer together. There is usually no major discomfort at this stage, only slight muscle tension. If the disease can be detected, then it can be completely cured by restoring the condition of the discs.
But usually the progression of osteochondrosis continues. In the surrounding soft tissues, an inflammatory process can begin, joint capsules suffer. The mobility of the spine is reduced, the vertebrae may be displaced. If increased physical activity continues, due to friction of the vertebrae against each other, microcracks appear on them. At this time, there is a feeling of squeezing in the chest, pain with any movement in the upper body.
At the third stage of osteochondrosis, the intervertebral discs become very thinned, protrusions and hernias appear. The mobility of the spine is almost completely limited. Osteophytes begin to form on the vertebrae. This stage is characterized by a pronounced radicular syndrome, since nerve fibers are impaired. In this case, the work of internal organs is seriously disrupted. In most cases, it is at this time that the patient goes to the doctor and begins treatment. If this is not done, complications can lead to disability, and when the spinal cord is compressed, to complete immobility.
The last stage of osteochondrosis is characterized by complete destruction of discs and loss of their functions. The bone tissue of the vertebrae begins to collapse, so the mobility of the spine is completely impaired. All vegetative and radicular symptoms of thoracic osteochondrosis are clearly pronounced.
The development of thoracic osteochondrosis is undulating. This is usually a chronic process that proceeds slowly, with little discomfort. There may be increased fatigue, weakness. And when exposed to external factors, an exacerbation occurs with sharp pains. In this case, patients are often hospitalized, since an attack may be accompanied by a feeling of lack of air, difficulty breathing, chest or abdominal pain.
The main cause of thoracic osteochondrosis, as in its other forms, is a violation of mineral metabolism. As a result of degenerative-dystrophic processes, protrusion or herniated disc appears, they become thinner and cease to perform their functions, vertebrae gradually collapse, osteophytes grow. This is most often due to an unbalanced diet, leading to a lack of essential nutrients, or age-related changes in the composition of cartilage tissue. Degeneration of the discs can also lead to poor circulation in the spine, bad habits, or a hereditary predisposition.
But the lack of minerals does not always lead to osteochondrosis. This requires provoking factors affecting the spine itself.
Therefore, the following reasons for this pathology are also distinguished:
- frequent static loads on the spine;
- prolonged sitting in an uncomfortable position at the table;
- lifting weights;
- injury to the spine or surrounding tissue;
- engaging in power sports;
- weakness of the muscle corset;
- congenital malformations of the skeleton;
- severe hypothermia;
- nervous overstrain.
It turns out that people who spend a long time in an uncomfortable position at a table or driving a car, as well as those who perform hard physical work, are most susceptible to the development of pathology. Indeed, both increased loads and their complete absence are equally harmful for intervertebral discs.
In addition, osteochondrosis often develops in young people who have osteochondropathy. This pathology usually develops in the lower thoracic region in adolescents. It is characterized by necrosis of the spongy tissue of the vertebrae, deformity of the spine and the appearance of neurological symptoms. With the progression of pathology, it is complicated by osteochondrosis.
Manifestations of pathology
The main symptoms of osteochondrosis of the thoracic spine are pain, radicular syndrome and dysfunction of internal organs. The pain in this pathology can be sharp, paroxysmal or aching, constant, increasing with movement. Sometimes patients are admitted to the hospital with suspected acute pancreatitis, cholecystitis, or urolithiasis. After all, pain is not always localized in the area of the affected vertebrae. Therefore, chest osteochondrosis is often mistaken for pathologies of other organs.
In addition, degenerative processes in the spine in this disease are almost always accompanied by vascular disorders or intercostal neuralgia. This is due to the special structure of the spine in this section - a small distance between the vertebrae and a large number of nerves and blood vessels.
Thoracic osteochondrosis can be suspected by limiting the mobility of the upper body, increasing stoop. Intercostal neuralgia often occurs. Acute pain can last for several hours or longer. It can be triggered by lifting weights, maintaining a static posture for a long time, hypothermia.
If the vessels are affected, there is a violation of the blood supply and nutrition of the skin. Because of this, there is an increased fragility of nails, dryness and flaking of the skin. Coldness of the skin and chilliness of the limbs are often observed.
Features of pain
Pain in osteochondrosis of the thoracic region can be different in intensity and localization. Pain usually occurs in the chest or between the shoulder blades. They are aggravated by raising an arm, turning or bending the body, coughing or sneezing. The pains can be sharp, pressing, aching.
Usually, such sensations are divided into two groups: dorsago and dorsalgia. Dorsago is an attack of acute pain between the shoulder blades. It is also called "chest lumbago". The pain is so severe that it prevents the person from moving. A dorsal attack usually occurs after a long stay in a stationary position on the first movement. It is accompanied by muscle spasm, so respiratory function is impaired. Sensation extends to the scapula, between the ribs to the chest. Chest pain with osteochondrosis resembles an attack of angina pectoris, but unlike it, it is not removed by Nitroglycerin. In addition, pain increases when pressing on the vertebrae.
Dorsalgia is chronic, mild pain. It usually begins gradually, with mild discomfort in the thoracic spine. In this case, the pain can intensify when bending, turning, raising an arm, and even when walking. This severely limits the patient's mobility. In addition, an increase in pain can be observed with a deep breath, after a long stay in a sitting position, or at night. Dorsalgia can last from 2 weeks to a month. Chest tightness and feeling short of breath may resemble pneumonia, but the patient does not have a cough or fever.
When the vertebrae or spasmodic muscles of the nerve roots are compressed, the signs of osteochondrosis of the thoracic region become more pronounced. After all, the spinal nerves located in this place of the spine are responsible for the innervation of the skin, motor functions of the limbs, and the functioning of internal organs.
In addition to shooting pains in the back, chest or abdomen, compression of the nerves is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- paresis or partial paralysis of the limbs;
- violation of skin sensitivity;
- numbness, burning, tingling, feeling of running "goose bumps";
- violation of tendon reflexes;
- reflex muscle spasm;
- trophic changes in the skin - hair loss, discoloration, dryness and flaking.
The intensity of these symptoms increases with physical exertion, deep inhalation, prolonged sitting, after hypothermia or stress.
In the thoracic spine, there are a lot of nerves and blood vessels that ensure the normal functioning of internal organs. Therefore, with osteochondrosis, various autonomic disorders are necessarily observed. They depend on the localization of the affected vertebrae, as well as on the stage of the pathology.
With lesions of the spine in the upper thoracic region, there is discomfort in the esophagus, a feeling of a coma in the pharynx. Difficulty swallowing, voice changes may appear. The middle thoracic vertebrae are responsible for the liver, gallbladder, stomach and pancreas. Therefore, when they are destroyed, symptoms often appear similar to pancreatitis, cholecystitis or gastritis. If degenerative changes have affected the lower thoracic vertebrae, there may be problems with the intestines and genitals.
Patients often see a doctor with abdominal pain. They usually get worse in the evening or after physical work. Moreover, pain is not associated with the characteristics of the patient's diet. This gastrological syndrome is characteristic of thoracic osteochondrosis. But despite abdominal pain, disruption of the intestines, nausea and flatulence, problems with the work of the digestive tract are not found. These sensations arise from damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the spine.
Due to the fact that the signs of thoracic osteochondrosis are nonspecific, pathology can be detected only with a comprehensive examination. At the same time, it is very important to differentiate it from other diseases. X-ray or tomography of the spine helps to exclude spondylopathy, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis.
But other methods of examination are also needed. This is a urine test, general and biochemical blood test, fluorography, ECG, MRI or ultrasound of internal organs. Such an examination makes it possible to exclude pathologies such as pancreatitis, gastritis, stomach ulcers, heart attacks, pneumonia, and urolithiasis.
Treatment of osteochondrosis of the thoracic spine should be comprehensive. Since the cause of the pathology is degenerative processes, it is impossible to completely cure it. Only at the initial stage, while the structure of the vertebrae has not yet been disturbed, and the discs have only slightly decreased in size, can this process be stopped and the functions of the spine restored.
But usually the treatment of chest osteochondrosis is aimed at slowing down tissue destruction, relieving pain and neurological symptoms, and restoring mobility. The choice of therapeutic methods depends on the stage of the pathology, the location of the degenerative processes, the symptoms manifested. It is necessary to start treatment as early as possible, then there is more opportunity to avoid complications.
It is especially important to see a doctor when the back hurts badly and the shooting pain radiates to the chest or shoulder blade. Such an aggravation can be removed with special methods. Usually these are drugs used in the form of tablets or injections, various ointments or compresses, physiotherapy procedures. It is also necessary to immobilize the spine: the patient is shown bed rest and restriction of movement for several days.
After the seizure is removed, treatment does not stop. But now its main goal is to stop degenerative processes and restore tissue trophism. Of the drugs for this, chordroprotectors, vitamins, and means for improving metabolism are used. In addition, courses of massage and physiotherapy procedures, as well as physiotherapy exercises, are necessarily prescribed. Moreover, the implementation of special exercises should be constant. To prevent complications, it is necessary to monitor the diet so that it provides the body with all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Lifestyle is also very important: choosing the right mattress and pillow for sleeping, a chair for work, alternating rest and physical activity.
Chest osteochondrosis is a rather serious pathology that, if untreated, can lead to dangerous complications. But difficulties in diagnosis lead to the fact that the disease often progresses. Therefore, it is so important to lead a correct lifestyle and avoid factors that provoke the destruction of discs. This will help prevent the development of osteochondrosis and keep the spine healthy.