How Ergonomics Protects Your Thoracic Vertebrae

March 24, 2021

Image illustrating a woman's spine
Muyeka Teddy

We are living at the height of health and fitness consciousness. People are now more aware of their bodies and health. This has led to people making choices that are good for their overall health and a better life.

One of the areas of interest for people in the thoracic vertebrae. So many people in the world struggle with back pain, and now, people are actively trying to find ways to understand what causes this and how to remedy it.

Let’s start by understanding the thoracic vertebrae, also the thoracic spine that is the longest region of the spine. It has also been described as the most complex. It is the second segment of the vertebral column that runs between the cervical and lumbar segments. There are 12 vertebrae in total, separated by intervertebral discs.

Before you get too lost in the big words, the thoracic spine basically spans your back from neck to lower back. It is the part responsible for protecting the internal viscera, that is, the lungs, heart and oesophagus.

 

Features of the thoracic vertebrae

Four distinct features characterize the thoracic vertebrae:

  • Demi-facets are present on the sides and articulate with the heads of your ribs.
  • The vertebral body is heart-shaped.
  • Costal facets that articulate with the tubercles of the ribs. These are present in the transverse processes.
  • Long and slant spinous processes that offer increased protection to our spinal cord.

Roles and functions of the thoracic spine

There are 12 vertebrae on the thoracic spine, and they’re stacked on top of each other. These are T1 to T12. They basically hold together your body from the neck and everything in your body. Given that it runs across the expanse of your back and is interconnected to other parts of your body, it plays some key functions:

  • Protects the spinal cord

    We all know the spinal cord is an extremely sensitive part of the human body. One wrong move, and the critical nerve bundle goes nuclear. Well, not in the literal sense of the word. However, your spinal cord sends electrical signals throughout your body that are responsible for your body’s functions. Your spinal cord runs from your brain down to the cervical and thoracic spine before becoming a network of nerves in the lumbar spine. With the thoracic spine in place, it ensures that your spinal cord is protected from any external harm to your body.

  • Holds the rib cage together

    It’s quite integral to the thoracic vertebrae. It supports your ribcage in the back, which forms the ‘skeletal’ structure that shields your vital organs. The bony structure is crucial to the protection of your viscera.

  • Responsible for stability

    The cervical spine and the lumbar spine have mobility covered. However, it is the responsibility of the thoracic spine to ensure the stability of your whole body.

 

Get to know your back

In case you didn’t know, your back consists of muscles, nerves, discs and vertebrae. Let’s dig into each one:

  • Discs

    Discs lie between each vertebra. They are made up of dense fibrocartilage. The disc is a spinal shock absorber that contains a jelly-like centre. Each disc has this and then a ring of fibrous tissue, tough to penetrate. When you move around, sit-stand, bend, pick up and put down, the discs absorb the spine's shock.

  • Nerves

    The communication network within your body consists of fibres. Your body communicates through electrical impulses. Your spinal cord is the main one and then branches out into smaller nerves at each vertebra that relay messages throughout your body.

  • Muscles

    This also encompasses tendons and ligaments. These are tissues that provide support and help with mobility. Ligaments help support and strengthen your joints while tendons attach muscle to bone.

  • Vertebrae

    These are the cylindrical bones that are separated by discs and make up the spine. The 33 vertebrae are stacked together vertically. They’re mostly responsible for support, protecting the spinal cord and allowing for flexibility so you can bend, stand and rotate. The spine comprises the 3 curves, the thoracic, cervical and lumbar, that balance the spine.

     

Thoracic spine pain

  • Muscle problems: Muscle irritation is often the cause of upper back pain or muscle tension. Any type of irritation on your muscles can lead to pain; this includes spasms and muscle strain.
  • Joint dysfunction: Your body is also subject to wear and tear in the sense that cartilage tears are possible, as well as degeneration. If a rib or disc is displaced from the vertebrae, this can be extremely painful.

 

What are the leading causes of back injury?

  1. Poor posture

    This is perhaps one of the biggest struggles that most people are trying to beat today. We’re all stuck behind computers for hours a day, and our bodies are bent in weird positions as we look for that comfortable spot. Most people don’t recognize that their posture causes muscle strain which then leads to back pain.

  1. Your physical condition

    You might not sit too long or the wrong way, but are you fit? Fitness is not just about getting a dream body; it is also about your body's physical health. How is your physical health? Do you exercise your body? Or over exercise? Both extremes can be detrimental to your back.

  1. Incorrect lifting

    Have you ever pulled your back? It is an excruciatingly painful experience that could lead to back pains. It is always advisable to avoid lifting very heavy things, and if you do, don’t lift with your back; use your legs.

  2. Exhaustion

    If your job requires that you use too much of your energy moving around or physically working, then you’re at risk of back pain as well. Always ensure to get enough rest for your back to recover and take breaks in between jobs.

     

What do I need to do for my back?

Glad you ask; the first thing you should do is check your posture and be willing to change your habits. While habits take long to settle in, it is important that you keep reminding yourself of good practices to help with your back's health.

Your body is designed to bend, flex and move around; being too static can cramp up your muscles and bring to vigorous can strain them. It’s about finding that sweet balance that allows your body to fall into a natural balance.

Another good to do is adjust at your place of work to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself. For instance, don’t jump straight into heavy lifting; build-up to the heavy lifts to give your body an adjustment period.

Finally, invest in ergonomics, both physical, cognitive and organizational, as they’ll help your body work at optimal levels.

 

Avoid a painful back with ergonomics

Ergonomics is a science that applies physical and psychological principles to improve productivity and well-being. This is extremely necessary in today’s fast-paced world. For the health of your thoracic vertebrae, we will focus on physical ergonomics.

Physical ergonomics focus on human anatomy and factors that affect your movement patterns and posture. With this in mind, it is good to highlight that there is no definition of what a good posture is as it varies on a person-to-person basis. However, postural awareness can help people adjust to better their health.

There has been a great shift in the understanding of ergonomics, especially among office workers. Office ergonomics have proven effecting as people who’ve used them to report less pain than they would normally experience. Over time, using ergonomic equipment has helped them solve their back pain and be more productive in their day.

 

How an ergonomic workplace can protect your thoracic vertebrae

An ergonomic workplace can help protect your back from injuries and pain. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has found that one of five workplace injuries and illnesses are back injuries. These are mainly caused by the daily use of equipment that does not properly give your back the support it requires.

Therefore, having an ergonomic workplace goes a long way to help reduce these cases and improve people's overall health. The height and distance of your desk and chair, and computer monitor can impact your thoracic spine.

If your chair is too high or too low, you end up straining to reach your desk, bend forward and generally affect the pressure distribution along your back. Therefore, you should invest in ergonomic office furniture such as:

  • Standing desk

    Quite popular among office workers today. It encourages great posture, modernized workspaces and helps people remain fit while working. An ergonomic standing desk is adjustable to help you work while standing and also sitting. It helps you achieve the perfect balance between your seat and desk height for better posture when seated.

  • Ergonomic chair

    An ergonomic chair allows your body to be in perfect harmony and balance when you’re seated. Your back is supported, and the chair leans back and forwards to allow for posture adjustments. The seat is also height adjustable to allow people to maintain a good posture, one where your knees and thighs are at the same level. Ergonomic chairs also bring you armrests and neck support to ensure that your entire thoracic vertebrae are covered.

  • Desk riser

    The position of your computer monitor is also crucial to your back health. Placed in the wrong way or the wrong place will force your body to strain when you’re working. Enter the desk riser, which is also known as a converter. At your home or office desk, you place this unit on top of it to lift your monitor and keyboard to a comfortable position that enhances productivity.

 

Strengthen your back!

In addition to having an ergonomic workspace and employing all the good to-dos for your back's health. It is also important that you remember to strengthen your back. The majority of people complain of pain in their lumbar spine or cervical spine, but their thoracic spine is, in fact, the one with the issues.

Granted, the thoracic vertebrae doesn’t allow for as much movement, again, to protect your vitals. Still, if you lack the necessary upper mobility, you end up creating a hypermobility situation with your lowest thoracic junction and highest lumbar junction.

To help you ensure that each of your vertebrae gets the right amount of mobility, it is important that you exercise each of these parts. For the thoracic spine, practice safe ways of strengthening it to prevent back pains. Most people turn to exercises like yoga that allow you to move your body and stretch your muscles safely.

The National Library of Health has also recommended weight-bearing exercises like walking to help with your back. It also mentions that calcium and vitamin D supplements can come in handy with a doctor's direction.

Since the use of ergonomic furniture has proved effective, more people are looking towards this solution for their workplaces and home offices. It is safe to say that ergonomic workspaces can help you begin to correct your posture and shed your back problems by protecting your thoracic vertebrae.

We accept articles, stories, and reviews that feature our products. The topics can also include tips on posture, spine health, and how to create a healthy work-from-home setup. If you are interested to collaborate with us, send an email to [email protected].

Sign Up to Receive Our Newsletter & Get the Best Ergonomic Tips