Thoracic surgery is typically recommended to address significant problems with the thoracic segment of the spine, which is located in the mid-back. Typically, thoracic surgery, as with all spine surgeries, is seen as a final option after other, more conservative treatments have been exhausted. Thoracic surgical options include traditional open back procedures as well as minimally invasive procedures.
The thoracic spine is the term used to describe the 12 vertebrae that rest between the neck and lower back. This segment is responsible for supporting the ribcage, which requires great strength but also greatly limits range of motion. As such, issues with the thoracic vertebrae are less common than with their counterparts in the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) spine. This is not to say that the thoracic spine is not prone to problems, however. Thoracic surgery is often required to treat middle back pain that can be caused by:
- Herniated discs
- Degenerative disc disease
- Pinched, compressed, or stressed nerves
- Spinal stenosis
- Bone spurs or tumors
- Other sources
A physician will typically only present traditional open back surgery as an option after all other treatments have been explored. An individual experiencing neck or back pain can typically manage the symptoms with more conservative means, such as physical therapy, pain medication and the application of ice or heat. Thoracic surgery, cervical surgery, and lumbar surgery only become an option when these treatments are proven ineffective.
Depending on the origin of the problem, a number of surgical procedures are available to the patient. For the most part, thoracic surgery has always been an open back procedure that required hospitalization and large incisions. However, recent advances in modern medicine have made minimally invasive procedures, including endoscopic surgery increasingly popular options. This is because minimally invasive surgery is far less risky than traditional open back surgery and is actually an outpatient procedure.