Degenerative thoracic spine

Degenerative thoracic spine is a term used to describe a degenerative spine condition that has developed in the middle of the back (thoracic spine). Although the thoracic spine is less likely to deteriorate compared to the lumbar or cervical (neck) regions, this section of the spine is not immune to degeneration and damage.

The thoracic spine is unique for several reasons. First, the 12 vertebrae of the thoracic spine (T1 to T12) connect directly to the ribs, meaning that they help the rib cage protect major organs like the heart, lungs and liver. Because they are anchored to the rib cage, the thoracic vertebrae do not have the same range of motion as vertebrae in the neck or lower back and therefore are not at the same risk of developing a degenerative spine condition.

Symptoms of degenerative conditions in the thoracic spine

However, in some cases a spine condition does develop in the thoracic spine and can cause the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness, numbness or tingling
  • Limited mobility
  • Pain during certain movements

These symptoms can occur in the spine or as far away as the arms or legs. This is because when a nerve root is pinched from a degenerative spine condition, the pain and symptoms can travel the length of the nerve pathway, sometimes extending into the extremities.

Types of degenerative conditions that can affect the thoracic spine

Two common degenerative thoracic spine conditions include osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease.

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis of the spine, is the deterioration of cartilage around the facet joints — the joints that allow the vertebrae to hinge and move. Degenerative disc disease, on the other hand, is the gradual breakdown of the discs in between each set of vertebrae. Both of these conditions can lead to the development of the following degenerative conditions in the thoracic spine:

  • Herniated disc
  • Bulging disc
  • Bone spurs
  • Facet joint inflammation (facet disease or degenerative joint disease)
  • Spinal stenosis

Treatment options for degenerative thoracic spine

Your physician can recommend a series of conservative treatments for pain relief depending on the type, severity and location of the degenerative disease in your thoracic spine. These treatments can include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Pain medication
  • Chiropractic care
  • Hot/cold compresses

However, if the pain continues after several months of treatment, you may be a candidate for the minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute. Our procedures are a safer, more effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery, and our minimally invasive approach to the spine allows our patients to experience a shorter recovery time§ and less risk of complication. While many patients may find relief from our decompression surgery, some patients with severe thoracic spine damage may require stabilization surgery.

For more information about the minimally invasive procedures we offer, contact Laser Spine Institute today.