Core topic: The thorax

By Megan Storey | July 7, 2020

Hello ladies and welcome to another installment of our health blog. This month we are focusing on the trunk, specifically the mid-back region of the trunk known as the ‘thorax’. This is one of the most commonly treated areas of the body in our clinic. It is central to many disorders we see on a daily basis, including neck, shoulder and low back complaints.

Anatomy

The trunk or ‘torso’ is the central core of the human body, out of which comes our arms, legs and neck. The torso can be broken down into three parts: the thorax, the abdomen and the pelvic bowl. The thorax, being the top part of the torso, is separated from the abdomen (the lower part) by a big muscle known as the diaphragm. Above the diaphragm sits the lungs and heart which are surrounded by our protective rib cage. The rib cage is made up of 12 pairs of ribs that (for the most part) attach at the back to the ‘thoracic’  vertebrae in the spine, and at the front to our chest bone (aka the ‘sternum’). It is an intricate part of the body which is made up of lots of joints, ligaments and muscles that all function together to allow us to move and breathe efficiently.

An analogy

woman being massaged helping her thorax and mid-back pain

The thorax, being a large part of our core, plays a pivotal role in the transfer of loads or forces that act on the body when we move. Our body is a unit, so it makes sense that a problem in one area can affect another area distant from that part. The mid-back has close connections to the neck, shoulder, low back and pelvis. If we have pain or are not moving well in the mid-back, then this can lead to problems in all the other areas (and vice versa). We liken the thorax to a train station. The trains coming into the thorax are the various loads or forces that are transferring from other parts of the body. Choo-choo!

A good example here would be if the muscles that span and stabilise the thorax are too tight, too weak, or simply activate at the wrong time in an attempt to handle one of the trains (forces) transferring through the region, the station becomes loud (ouch!) and over-excited. What results is pain and poor movement patterns.

A stiff rib or spinal joint may be able to cope with the loads temporarily, but eventually derailment occurs, and chaos ensues. The same can be said for joints at the other end of the spectrum. An overly flexible joint will struggle to deal with load just as much as an overly stiff joint does. Again, poor movement and pain occur.

The emotion of it all

Treating a person in pain is a complex thing. Yes we have to take into account how someone is moving and what they do daily to increase load on their body, but there is commonly an underlying emotional aspect to a person’s pain that we also need to break into with our treatment. Many women we treat do not realise the effect that stress has on their bodies. Pent up energy from everyday life stresses and difficult work and social aspects, gets stored and held in the thorax region of the body. Common areas we treat here include the tops of the shoulders, ribs and diaphragm. Muscles become tight, joints become stiff, and unless we can help to restore balance to this busy area of the body, the cycle continues with poor movement and painful episodes. When the trains aren’t running on time, it can get a bit much!

Problems in this region can also lead to poor breathing mechanics which can lead to a variety of issues including lack of energy, fatigue, and poor muscle function. A release of the diaphragm muscle under the rib cage can be helpful in releasing the tension and emotion held within us.

Treatment

Every woman we see in clinic requires a specific treatment plan, based on their presentation and needs. Pregnant, young, old, active or sedentary… We listen carefully to every woman who comes through our door before carrying out a thorough examination. Our findings will then help formulate a unique treatment plan which we discuss with each patient in depth before commencing treatment.

For complaints in the thorax, whether it be an angry over-worked muscle, a stiff spinal joint, or a sprained rib joint, we use a combination of:

  • Hands-on techniques to relieve tight muscles and stiff joints
  • Exercise prescription to increase strength and flexibility, and improve movement patterns
  • Postural advice / exercises
  • Stress management techniques to increase a patient’s awareness of their emotional state

Next steps

If you are struggling with mid-back, rib or pain elsewhere in the thorax, please call us today on 08 8443 3355. We’ll focus the spotlight on your busy train station and get things running smoothly and on time in no time at all.