The third thoracic vertebrae, also known as the T3 vertebra, is a small vertebra in the upper middle back that plays an integral role in supporting the rib cage. The T3 vertebra is a strong piece of bone that interlocks with the adjacent vertebrae to provide stability and support in the thoracic spine, while still allowing for a measure of flexibility.
Structure and Function
The T3 vertebra is comprised of:
- A hollow spinal foramen which protects the spinal cord and allows for comfortable passage of spinal nerves
- Vertebral foramina that allow nerve roots to branch off the cord and exit the spinal column
- Matching sets of facet joints which connect the T3 to the T1 and T2 vertebrae
- Additional facet joints which connect ribs to the vertebrae while allowing for slight articulation
The T3 vertebra, like the other twelve thoracic vertebrae that compose the thoracic spine, is tasked with providing support to the rib cage. This also means that the thoracic spine doesn’t offer the same degree of mobility as the more flexible spine segments in the neck and in the lower back. As a result of this stability, damage to the thoracic spine is less common than in the more active cervical spine and lumbar spine—although spinal deterioration at the thoracic spine can certainly still occur.
Problems and Treatment
Facet joints are prone to arthritis, nerve roots can become compressed, and stenosis can narrow a foramen, all of which are leading causes of upper and middle back pain. These conditions can each result from regular aging, disease, or injury, and aren’t mutually exclusive—meaning that, if you are suffering from foraminal stenosis, you are likely feeling the effects of nerve compression.