As you get older, your vertebrae (spinal bones) tend to wear down. The bony discs and joints can crack.

You don’t have to have an injury, such as a fall, for this to happen. Wear and tear on any bone can cause a stress fracture.

Time can also cause the cartilage, the cushion between your bones, to grow thinner. The ligaments that connect your bones can grow thicker and less flexible.

When these changes develop in the middle of your spine, the condition is known as thoracic spondylosis.

The thoracic portion of your spine refers to the middle of your back. Your spine includes two more sections on the top and bottom of the thoracic region.

The cervical part of the spine is the upper section that includes the neck. The lumbar section is your lower back. Each section can experience spondylosis. Thoracic spondylosis is less common than lumbar or cervical spondylosis.

Spondylosis in any part of your back can also result from a sports injury that causes a small fracture in a vertebra. Children and teens may be especially vulnerable to this problem, because their bones are still developing.

Thoracic spondylosis doesn’t always lead to noticeable symptoms. When it does, you tend to feel stiff or sore or both.

When pain is involved, it’s often because changes in the discs are causing one or more of them to press on nerves that extend from the spinal canal. For example, tissue can form a lump around a stress fracture to help heal the bone. But a lump of tissue can press against spinal nerves, triggering pain or other symptoms.

Spondylosis in any part of your back, including the thoracic section, can cause pain to radiate downward into the legs. Pain can get worse with activity but improve with rest.

Your legs can become tingly or numb. You can also experience muscle weakness in your arms and legs, as well as trouble walking.

Another complication of spondylosis is spondylolisthesis, in which a vertebra slips forward and onto the bone below it and squeezes a nerve. This painful condition is often referred to as a pinched nerve. Check out these exercises to relieve the pain.

Thoracic spondylosis is often an age-related medical condition. With every passing year, your odds of developing some form of spondylosis increase. Even relatively healthy people can experience some disc degeneration.

Because you put less burden on your thoracic spine than the other parts of your back, thoracic spondylosis usually develops because there has been cervical or lumbar spondylosis first. When one part of your back experiences problems, the rest of your spine is at greater risk of trouble.

For older adults, the day-to-day stress on the spine simply adds up over time. The cause of spondylosis may actually be a combination of heavy lifting and an active lifestyle. Osteoporosis, a bone-thinning condition also associated with age, may contribute to stress fractures in the vertebrae.

The part of a vertebra most commonly associated with spondylosis is a section called the pars interarticularis. The pars joins the two facet joints on the back of a vertebra. Even a very small crack in the pars can cause spondylosis.

For young people with vertebrae that’re still growing and developing, trauma from a football tackle or stress from a gymnastics routine can lead to spondylosis.

Genetics may also play a role. You may come from a family in which vertebral bone is thinner.

When a sore and stiff back start to interfere with your daily functioning or keep you from sleeping or enjoying your usual quality of life, you should see a doctor.

Because the pain and tingling are often felt in the buttocks and legs, it’s not always easy to pinpoint the source of your symptoms. You may be inclined to chalk it up to lower back problems, and not a fracture or other problem with the thoracic part of the spine.

In addition to gathering your medical history and your current symptoms, your doctor will probably order X-rays if spondylosis is suspected. Most adults over age 60 have some sign of spondylosis that will show up in an X-ray. X-rays can reveal the location and size of bone fractures.

MRI scans can provide detailed views of the nerves and soft tissue around the spine. If your doctor suspects a pinched nerve, an MRI can often diagnose the problem.

The goal of treatment is usually to avoid surgery if possible. Symptoms may be controlled by pain-relieving medications and physical therapy.

However, if thoracic spondylosis is pressing on a nerve, surgery may relieve the pressure. Surgical options include:

  • discectomy, which removes the injured disc
  • laminectomy, which removes bone spurs or the lamina, the arch in the back of a vertebra
  • laminoplasty, which changes the position of the lamina to create more room for nerve tissue within your spine
  • spinal fusion, which connects parts of your spine with transplanted bone, either with or without rods or screws to help connect two or more bones

A back brace may help keep your spine stable, either after surgery, or instead of surgery while the fracture heals on its own.

Rest may be best for thoracic spondylosis until you start to feel better. However, you don’t want to stay bedridden too long. Lying down or sitting for prolonged periods raise the risk for formation of blood clots in your legs. Light walking and other activity can be helpful, but you should ask your doctor for guidance on when to start and how much is safe.

Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, as well as painkillers if you’ve had surgery. Be sure any medications you take are under the close supervision of your doctor.

Depending on the severity of your condition and whether you underwent surgery, you may have to refrain from heavy lifting and other activities that require bending over or stooping for a few weeks to a few months.

You can begin exercises that stretch and strengthen your back as soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead. You may benefit most from having physical therapy, in which you’ll learn the proper technique for spine-friendly exercises.

When exercising with thoracic spondylosis, remember to follow the guidance of your doctor or physical therapist and to stop if you experience pain.

Exercise should focus on improving:

  • posture
  • range of motion
  • muscle flexibility
  • core strength, since the muscles in your abdomen help keep the spine stable
  • spine muscle strength
  • weight management
  • circulation
  • overall fitness

Core-strengthening exercises, which are critical to spine health, can be done at home. The Pelvic Tilt is an easy one:

  • Lie on your back and bend your knees. Place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Use your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button down toward your spine.
  • Hold that position for 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Pause and relax for a few seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Another exercise to help strengthen the muscles in your back is called a Bridge:

  • Lie on your back and bend your knees. Place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Use the muscles in your buttocks and back to lift your hips up while keeping your shoulders flat on the floor.
  • Hold that position for 5 seconds.
  • Relax and lower your hips.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Swimming is a low-impact exercise that can help boost back and shoulder strength, range of motion, and flexibility. Hydrotherapy is another pool-based treatment that can help relieve pain and loosen tight muscles.

Before starting any form of therapy or any exercise treatment plan, be sure to get the green light from your physician.

Exercising to strengthen your spine and core muscles and maintain your flexibility is important even if you don’t have thoracic spondylosis symptoms. Those exercises may help prevent or at least delay back problems.

If you do have symptoms, don’t ignore them. Have them evaluated by a spine specialist and work out a treatment plan, keeping in mind that surgery should be viewed as a last resort. Ignoring symptoms can lead to long-term neurological problems including pain, numbness, and muscle weakness.

By getting a diagnosis and following through with physical therapy and other lifestyle changes, you can enjoy many years with little or no back pain.