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Back Pain Relief

Whether you have pain in the upper, middle, or lower part of your back, knowing the anatomical structures of the spine can help you understand your treatment options.

Upper back pain

The 12 vertebral bodies in the upper back that are attached to the rib cage make up the thoracic spine (middle or upper back) are firmly attached to the rib cage at each level, providing a great deal of stability and structural support, protecting the heart, lungs, and other important organs within the chest.

Because there is little motion in the upper spine, it is rare to have pain caused by a herniated or degenerated thoracic disc. More common causes of upper back pain include irritation of the large back muscles and shoulder or joint dysfunction.

Lower back pain

Because the lower back carries the most load with the least structural support, it is the most likely to wear down or suffer injury.

Most episodes of lower back pain are caused by muscle strain. Even though this doesn't sound like a serious injury, the pain can be severe. Strong abdominal muscles and back muscles are important to provide support for this area of the spine and avoid injury.

Motion in the lower back is divided between the five motion segments, with a disproportionate amount of the motion in the lower segments (L4-L5 and L4-L5)—the two segments most likely to be a source of pain from conditions such as degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc.

Frequently, a lower back problem can cause sciatica, or pain that radiates down the sciatic nerve into the leg.

Pain at the bottom of the spine

The iliac bones are part of the pelvis, and the sacrum is connected to this part of the pelvis by the sacroiliac joints.

Pain can occur in the sacroiliac joints (where the sacrum connects to the pelvis), called sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and in the coccyx (tailbone), called coccydynia. Both of these conditions are more common in women than men.

The spine is an anatomically complicated structure. Knowing the basics can help you have a more meaningful discussion with your spine care provider.