Date
23 October 2017
When we lower our head to study, process documents or use a computer for a long period of time, our upper back comes under significant strain. Photo: Reuters
When we lower our head to study, process documents or use a computer for a long period of time, our upper back comes under significant strain. Photo: Reuters

What is T4 syndrome?

When people have neck and shoulder pain, or when their hands lose strength and become numb, they most likely assume that it is because their cervical nerves are constantly compressed.

Some would then buy a stretch machine and use it at home. However, they might see their condition worsen.

And the sleeping hand is not necessarily caused by neck problem either; instead, this discomfort could be due to T4 syndrome.

T4 refers to the upper thoracic vertebrae IV. T4 syndrome is one of the posture syndromes. When we lower our head to study, process documents or use a computer for a long period of time, our upper back is heavily pressured.

The upper back, especially the fourth section of the thoracic muscles, intervertebral discs and soft tissues, would be subject to repetitive pressure, resulting in increased muscle tension, pain, stiffness or neurotic pain.

As the symptoms of the T4 syndrome are highly similar to that of vertebral degeneration, carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis), it is easily misdiagnosed.

Physically weak people, individuals with hunchback and some women would have a higher chance of the T4 syndrome. Those, whose jobs require them to use a computer for long hours, or to bend over to lift heavy objects repeatedly or excessively using their upper back, are also more likely to suffer from it.

Patients feel pain from their upper back, on their shoulders and to their hands, which leads to their upper limbs suffering from glove-like fashion numbness. When their thoracic vertebral fourth section is pressed, they can feel an abnormal pain and tension.

Some patients may have headaches, spreading from their hindbrain to the entire head. These pains are more evident at night. Turning neck backwards or to the sides will not cause pain.

Some patients would opt to ease the pain by having a massage or taking painkillers, which can only reduce muscle pain. If patients’ thoracic cavity has shifted, massage sessions will not help.

Those with mild shifted cavity can be treated by a chiropractor, or a physiotherapist, who will correct the dislocated joint. Also, they may use infrared, shockwave and interferential therapies to increase blood circulation, reduce pain and curb inflammation.

Prevention is always better than cure. It is recommended that after using a computer for every 30 minutes or an hour, people should do stretching exercises to relax their joints and tense muscles. This can help enhance blood circulation and reduce the risk of muscle strain. Apart from doing appropriate exercises, patients should also avoid repetitive moves.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 3

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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licensed chiropractor and physiotherapist

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