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Chronic Thoracic Spine/Lateral Muscle Pain and Spasms, 2+ years--getting worse as time passes, HELP!

mb7716mmb7716 Posts: 3
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:55 AM in Chronic Pain
I apologize in advance for the length of this question, but I am getting desperate for answers, and I included as much detail as I could. Thank you in advance for your help.

I am a 28 year old female. 6' tall and 205 pounds.

I consider myself active: I attend jiu jitsu classes twice weekly and lift free weights and cardio at the gym twice weekly.

My profession is a photographer: about 20percent of my time is spent behind the camera, the other 80percent of the time is at a desk, editing photos on a computer.

Two years ago, I noticed a pain in my left midback region that felt like something was pushing on my lung with every breath, especially deep breaths. Almost like someone is digging their knuckles into the spot where my lat muscle meets my spine: close to the bottom of the shoulder blade.

I suspected that this was some sort of minor injury because of my sport-- jiu jitsu is very close contact grappling. At the time, the pain wasn't severe enough to make me worry, and so I (stupidly) ignored it, thinking it would go away on it's own.

Fast forward a year and six months later, and the pushing-pain still exists, except multiplied ten times greater. When it gets BAD, it sends my muscles on the left side of my back into spasm and makes it extremely painful to even take a small breath. When I am tired after a long day, my back will begin to spasm for no reason. The spasming seems to have a direct connection to this "pushing" feeling that I'm having in my mid-back. Even when my back is not full-on spasming, the pushing feeling is still there.

This pushing feeling is 100 percent of the time, every day, every breath, for now the past two years. It has recently become much, much worse.

Other minor symptoms is a very tight neck and feeling like I need to "pop" it constantly, a tired lower back (especially when the spasming starts), pain in the front rib area of my left side (especially when spasming) and sometimes my arm/hand on my left side feels weird. My right arm and hand on my right side occasionally goes numb and gets painful, which my doctor attributed to a minor pinched nerve.

When I breathe, ESPECIALLY when my back is spasming, I can hear lots of "popping" noises in my ears, which sound like they are coming from joints in my back: similar sounds to when a person pops their knuckles.

MRI results of my lower back showed nothing remarkable. X-ray of my thoracic spine came back fine. My upper back and thoracic spine have not been MRIed.

My family doctor sent me to a pain management doctor, who suspected my ribs were sublaxating. She put me on pain medication, muscle relaxants, and I went to a physical therapist for about a month. None of the above ever completely gets rid of the pushing feeling, and my back still goes into spasm.

My pain management doctor just tells me to keep taking the pain killer and muscle relaxant--which I really don't feel is doing anything at all.

My family doctor suggested I go to a deep tissue massage therapist. The massage therapist mentioned that all of my muscles, especially teres major/minor and lateral dorsi were especially tight, which could be putting extra pressure on my ribs--causing the "pushing" feeling. She mentioned that she felt some scar tissue around my teres minor. I've had five weekly 1.5-hour long (very painful and expensive) deep tissue massages. For about 8 hours after I leave, I have only slight "pushing" pain. The pain ALWAYS returns, though.

I have been stretching twice daily--stretches that the physical therapist and massage therapist suggested. These feel good, and I can tell they are good for my back, but they are not solving my problem.

The ONLY things that helps relieve the pain slightly is a) the deep tissue massage b) my TENS unit and c) laying in bed for a long, long time, which really isn't an option because LIFE. Shortly after I stop any of these three methods, my pain comes right back. Even hydrocodone and muscle relaxants do nothing but make me feel woozy--the pushing sensation still exists (though, I will admit, the pain in the sensation is decreased).

And now, for the past two days, my entire left side of my body has been in complete spasm. My muscles are hard to the touch. I am having trouble breathing, I am fatigued, and quite honestly, scared. I can't miss work because we are so busy, so staying home in bed is not an option. I wear my TENS unit as often as I can around the office, and I'm out of money temporarily for deep tissue massages (last one was a week ago).

I am tired of living with this pain and it's really starting to take a toll on my life and my finances, and I fully regret not going to the doctor when this first started two years ago.

Please--does anyone have an idea of what's going on?


  • It is possible you have a thoracic herniated disc. You should get an mri of that area.
    ACDF C4-5 June 23rd, 2011

    Another surgery in the near future. I am 26 years old.

    Current Meds- Norco 7.5/325, Cymbalta 60mg, Gabapentin, Adderall 20mg
  • Coming to Spine Health is a great place to find out a lot about your problems and to learn about the spine problems that can bother you. You have mentioned several symptoms that I can relate to in the thoracic area of the spine. I think you definately need to talk to your doctor about having a MRI for your thoracic part of your back, it sounds like you could have a herniated disc causing the problems. The thoracic area is the middle part of your spine, between your cervical (neck area), and the lumbar (lower area) of the spine. Doctors seem to have a harder time treating or diagnosing this area of the spine, because it is the least likely area to have problems, but it does happen. Check out this site thoroughly, because there is so much information to offer. The people on the forums are amazing, and they have so much personal experience that can help people like yourself. Ofcourse, this is just my opinion on your problems, the doctor is the only one that can diagnose anything. I hope this helps some, and I hoope you find answers and treatment so your pain will go away. If there is anything I can do just let me know.

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  • Welcome to Spine-health.

    Actually, I'd get an MRI of your cervical area. My problems started with a stabbing pain in the middle of my back and if you're experiencing arm symptoms, it could be referred pain from your cervical area.

    It's true that x-rays of the thoracic area may not show if something is wrong, but starting with an x-ray of your cervical area might be a wise idea. My experience from my cervical problems were that the symptoms were not directly in my neck, but in my upper back, sometimes a little lower, and into my arms.

    Take care and keep us posted.

  • I would definitely recommend that you talk to your doctor about an MRI of the thoracic spine, and maybe even the cervical if you are having these symptoms in your arm. Some of your symptoms seem consistant with a cervical disc problem, while others are classic for a thoracic herniation. I, myself, have multiple thoracic herniations. Depending on which side the disc is herniated on, you'll feel mid-back pain that radiates around your side and sometimes to the front. I just had two discs operated on 5 weeks ago that were causing right-sided back pain. Since the surgery I have developed left-sided back pain that wraps around my ribcage and to the front. In any case, it sounds like further testing needs to be done. X-Ray will only show the bone and if there is less space between the vertebrae. But if it's not a very large disc herniation, then it won't show up on X-Ray. So really an MRI or even a CT scan would be your best bet.
  • Thanks so much for all of your advice. Now I know I need to get a cervical and thoracic MRI, but I am about to switch insurance to a better plan with a new employer. However, that's not until early September. I have a few questions, with that in mind:

    1) since this has been going on for so long, is there much that can be done besides surgery? If it is truly a herniation, are there any chances of it,healing naturally?

    2) again, since this has been going on for so long, is waiting another few weeks to get the MRI going to hurt anything?

    I am horribly upset with myself for not taking my back health seriously. If it is a herniation, I am sure it occurred in jiu jitsu practice. I love the sport, but not enough to royally screw up my back. I feel absolutely stupid. (Pardon my self-scolding)

    My bad spasms settled down last night. So far, they havent started back up. I took some Alieve. I'm downright sick of taking hydrocodine and Roboxin, and its become quite ineffective anyways. Today I feel like only the left side of my body had a brutal workout muscles and skin are sore to the touch.
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  • Hello again.

    I got my MRI results back. According to my pain management doctor, who had her nurse call me, she has proudly reported that my MRI was "100% normal. There's a mention of a small bulge at t4-t5, but that's not doing anything. Your problem is completely muscular".

    This sounded awfully fishy to me. I asked the nurse, "Where does the t4-t5 line up on my body?". The nurse said she didn't really know (wtf?).

    So I did the cardinal sin: I Googled "bulge at t4 t5".

    I now want to cuss my doctor out.

    The t4 t5 area is EXACTLY where I have been telling my doctor that my pain is originating. In my most recent visit to her, I told her that I felt like I had a "marble" on my spine that pushes on my lungs and ribs, and seems to set off a huge muscle spasm when it gets irritated. She told me that getting an MRI was going to be "overkill", but she agreed to let me do it, anyways. For "your peace of mind", she said. I guess that's why she seemed to proud to report that the MRI findings were "normal"--she thought she had confirmed to me that she was right.

    Upon further googling, I've found out that a nerve that runs through the t4-t5 area connects to the ribs and lung area. My theory is that the "small bulge" in my t4-t5 area is pressing on that nerve, making it painful for me to breathe. And when that nerve gets overly inflamed, it sets off a huge muscular spasm.

    I now have lost all faith in my doctor, and I don't know where to turn. I know that I don't want to go back to her, and when I figure out how to fix my problem on my own, I plan on writing her a letter.

    I understand that many, many, many of you guys have far worse problems than something as small as a tiny bulging disc. I thank God that I don't have anything as serious as many of your issues, and I pray that you find some relief.

    But--I am asking if anyone has ANY information for me about how to heal this bulge in my t-spine (that I have apparently had for over 2.5 years, now, and has not healed itself).

    I stretch every day. I'm fairly active, but I have completely quit jiu jitsu because my back was getting worse.

    I have tried physical therapy and many different back exercises. I'm more conscious of my posture and use good lumbar support.

    Anyone have any ideas on how to DEbulge a bulging disk, especially in the t-spine?

    Thank you for all of your kind advice.
  • I have a t-4-5 protrusion. While I belive it is one of my pain generators I don't think it is the single reason I have t-spine pain. My latest NS opinion was to leave this level alone and address my worse t herniation at another level.

    The spinal cord has even less room for bulges at this level. It is not common, but I would speak to a specialist (who specializes in T-spine issues) and seek out a PM to get you started in some kind of pain relief.

    Incidently I had a brain mri about 2 decembers ago (when I was in the heart of my cervical issues). It said I had some lesions and couldn't rule out ms... My primary doctor interpretted it as normal. My NS didn't. He went ahead and had my spinal fluid checked.

    Hang in there,


  • I am asking because I have been dealing with the same. I have been trying something the last 2 weeks called sarapin. I have 2 more treatments.
  • I suffer from all of these same symptoms. I definately have rib subluxation (spelling?) and see a chiropractor three times a week for this and have been for just over a year. The levels that are out range from T4 down typically on the left. Over time as the stability of my ribs decreased and the muscle spasms increased sitting has become almost intolerable. I finally broke down and went off work (an office job) in January. I returned to work half days in February to a standing only position. I have finally been able to see a PM specialist (this is a long wait here). The PM specialist I am seeing diagnosed as Thoracolumbar Syndrome at the T12 - L1 level. He did this before getting MRI results which came back small herniations at T9 and T8. He scheduled me for a facet injection for last week. When I arrived he had decided to do muscular injections, wait seven days to see what results I got from them, then do the facet injection this Monday if he still felt it was warranted. The muscle injections were irritating, left a bruised feeling, and thus far don't seem to have done much. All of this being said with my new standing only lifestyle I have found some improvements over the past 5 months and am less than confident that the facet injection is a good idea. Perhaps I am suffering from fear of the unknown, but more than anything I am not willing to take any steps in the wrong direction.

    Has anyone ever heard of this diagnosis?

    Has anyone with these symptoms had any luck with facet joint injections?

    Any information would be greatly appreciated!

  • I also have the exact same symptoms. Absolutely the same.
    It's been 8 months now and docs chiro physios all are stumped.
    I'm hoping the thread starter could update us with how he is going now.
    Anyone know how to get in touch with him?

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