Thoracic spondylosis, although not as common as cervical or lumbar spondylosis, is a common back disorder in people over the age of 50. “Spondylosis” is a blanket term used by physicians to describe general deterioration in the spine. Thoracic spondylosis, then, is degeneration of the soft tissue in the thoracic section, or mid-section, of the spine.
An overview of thoracic spondylosis
As the body ages, natural chemical changes lead to dehydration of the pads of cartilage and gel that separate and cushion the vertebrae, called “discs.” As this process occurs, the discs become more vulnerable to the stresses placed upon them during movement. As a result, painful spinal conditions like herniated or bulging discs become more likely as the discs break down.
Age-related wear also affects the soft tissue of the thoracic spine. Ligaments and tendons (the tough bands of tissue that hold the neuromuscular structure together) can dry out and shrink, pulling bones out of alignment. Spinal stenosis, a condition in which the spinal canal narrows and causes nerve root compression and pain, can result from thoracic spondylosis. Protective cartilage can also wear away from joints, allowing bones to grind together and damage each other. Bone spurs can then form, placing pressure on spinal nerves and causing pain.
Thoracic spondylosis symptoms and treatment
Since the thoracic spine doesn’t work as hard as the lumbar or cervical spine, degeneration tends to begin elsewhere before affecting the thoracic spine. However, that is not always the case, as spondylosis can affect any part of the spine. Common symptoms of thoracic spondylosis include:
- Pain and stiffness in the mid-back, particularly in the morning after you get out of bed
- Tingling or numbness in the legs, arms, hands, or feet
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of coordination or difficulty walking
In all but the most serious cases, conservative treatment options are enough to control these symptoms. Initial treatment typically consists of a combination of lifestyle changes, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications, and activity. If the pain worsens or becomes chronic, physical therapy, massage therapy, prescription medications or alternative therapeutic options like ultrasounds or chiropractic treatments might be an option. Only in the most severe cases is surgery indicated.