Thoracic disc protrusion is a condition in which one or more of the intervertebral discs that cushion the 12 vertebrae in the thoracic spine (T1 to T12) weaken to the point of potentially causing nerve compression. The thoracic spine (middle back) is connected to the ribcage and is relatively static, and disc disorders are far less common in this region than they are in the more flexible lumbar (lower back) or cervical (neck) spine segments.
In a normal spine, the vertebrae are separated by pliable, thick pads that absorb the pressures of neck and back movement. These pads, along with the vertebral joints, provide the spine its flexibility and mobility. Over time, however, intervertebral discs lose their ability to spring back. Instead, the discs can become compressed and pushed out of place, causing the disc to protrude into other parts of the spinal column. If a disc protrusion comes into contact with one of the nerves in the spine, a number of pain-related symptoms may manifest.
Specific symptoms depend on the location and the severity of the thoracic, or T1-T12 disc protrusion, but may include:
- Muscle weakness in the abdomen
- Deep, localized middle or upper back pain
- Other back stiffness or soreness
- Pain, numbness and/or tingling in the chest, stomach or inner arms
- Traveling pain radiating along the nerve
The prognosis for a patient diagnosed with a thoracic disc protrusion is quite good. Typically, disc protrusion is treated by a conservative course of action, which can include physical therapy, heat or ice packs, pain medication or injections and more. However, a small percentage of the population continues to experience disc protrusion symptoms for months or years. These patients are left to consider spine surgery as a final option.