Thoracic disc surgery becomes an option when an individual’s middle back pain hasn’t responded to conservative treatment and symptoms have become debilitating. In most instances, back and neck pain can be managed without surgery, but in a small segment of the population, disc surgery is the only real option for meaningful pain relief. Thanks to the advent of endoscopic spine surgery, the prospect of thoracic disc surgery is far less imposing than ever before.
The thoracic spine is made up of twelve vertebrae in the middle of the back, known as T1-T12. These vertebrae have to be strong and stable, not only because they are responsible for supporting the weight of the rib cage, but they also have to allow for the flexibility of the back. To cushion the vertebrae and allow for this flexibility, soft, spongy intervertebral discs exist between each vertebra. These discs act as springy cushions and keep the bones from grinding together. Over time, however, discs can become bulged, herniated, or ruptured and may require thoracic disc surgery.
Conditions that could require disc surgery include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Nerve compression
- Spinal stenosis
- Herniated disc
- And more
All told, thoracic disc surgery is far less common than cervical or lumbar disc surgery because the thoracic spine doesn’t have the mobility of the other segments of the spine. However, the thoracic spine is certainly not immune to degeneration from aging or injury.
If a patient is faced with spine surgery, they typically have two choices: open back surgery or endoscopic spine surgery. Open back surgery is massively invasive and will require overnight hospitalization and a lengthy rehabilitation period. Typically, if thoracic disc surgery is being attempted as an open back procedure, the surgeons will remove the problematic disc entirely and fuse the adjoining vertebrae together. The problem with this is that the procedure is permanent, not always effective, and highly traumatic to the body.
Alternatively, minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery uses laser technology to remove the portion of the disc that is causing nerve compression and other problems. This outpatient procedure takes a matter of hours and doesn’t require the lengthy recovery of open back surgery.