A narrowing of the spinal canal in the middle of the back is known as thoracic spinal stenosis. This degenerative spine condition can involve any of the 12 thoracic vertebrae, which are commonly called T1 to T12.
Thoracic spinal stenosis manifests itself differently than spinal stenosis in the neck (cervical region) or lower back (lumbar region) because the thoracic vertebrae are joined to the ribs. The thoracic spine is not as mobile as the neck and lower back, but the thoracic spine does support the body’s ability to rotate and move from side to side. This is the primary motion that is affected in patients with thoracic spinal stenosis.
Symptoms of thoracic spinal stenosis may include:
- Pain in the ribs
- Pain in the affected area of the back
- Pain radiating down the back or legs
- Aching in the legs that leads to difficulty walking
- Pain in one or more internal organs
It is not unheard of for thoracic spinal stenosis to be accompanied by lumbar spinal stenosis (in the lower back), cervical spinal stenosis (in the neck) or both.
Although spinal stenosis in the thoracic region can be congenital (something an individual is born with), in most cases it is a result of the natural aging process. The vertebrae, intervertebral discs and ligaments in the thoracic region of the spine — as well as other regions of the spine — can develop a number of conditions over time due to wear and tear, injury or overuse. All of the following conditions can contribute to narrowing of the spinal canal:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated discs
- Bulging discs
- Bone spurs
Pain associated with thoracic spinal stenosis is usually the result of vertebrae, discs, bone spurs, ligaments or other tissue expanding into the mid-spinal canal, causing it to narrow. This narrowing puts undue pressure on spinal cord and nerve roots in the thoracic region, and painful symptoms typically result.