Thoracic disc protrusion

Thoracic disc protrusion is a condition in which one or more of the discs that cushion the 12 vertebrae in the thoracic spine (middle back) weakens and protrudes out of its normal alignment, possibly impacting a nearby nerve and causing pain.

The thoracic spine is connected to the rib cage and is relatively static, meaning it does not have the same range of motion and flexibility as the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) spine. For this reason, disc disorders are far less common in this region than they are in the more flexible lumbar or cervical spine.

Nevertheless, damage and deterioration can occur in the thoracic spine after years of wear and tear from the natural aging process. This gradual deterioration can lead to disc protrusion and other degenerative disc diseases.

Deterioration in the thoracic spine

In a healthy spine, the vertebrae are separated by thick, cushioning discs that absorb the pressure of neck and back movement. These discs, along with the vertebral joints, provide the spine its flexibility and mobility.

Over time, however, a disc may lose its ability to withstand the pressure of the constant movement. The elasticity in the disc’s outer layer can stretch out, no longer holding the disc in the proper shape or height to support the spine. Instead, the disc can become compressed and pushed out of place, causing the disc to protrude into other parts of the spinal column. If a disc protrusion comes into contact with one of the nerves in the spine, a number of pain-related symptoms may manifest.

Symptoms of thoracic disc protrusion

Specific symptoms depend on the location and the severity of the thoracic disc protrusion, but may include:

  • Muscle weakness in the abdomen
  • Deep, localized middle or upper back pain
  • Other back stiffness or soreness
  • Pain, numbness and/or tingling in the chest, stomach or inner arms
  • Traveling pain radiating along the nerve

If you have been experiencing these symptoms for several days or longer, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause of your pain. Typically, disc protrusion is treated by a conservative course of action, which can include physical therapy, heat or ice packs, pain medication or injections, and more.

However, some patients with severe disc damage may require spine surgery to treat the symptoms of disc protrusion. Before agreeing to traditional open back surgery, we encourage you to research the safer, more effective options at Laser Spine Institute.

Our minimally invasive decompression surgery and minimally invasive stabilization surgery can help treat disc protrusion by removing a small portion of the damaged disc from the pinched nerve (decompression surgery) or by removing the protruded disc altogether and replacing it with an artificial one to stabilize the spine (stabilization surgery). For many patients, decompression surgery can be used to relieve pressure on the pinched nerve from a damaged disc; stabilization surgery is only used when the disc protrusion has caused instability in the spine and needs to be replaced with an artificial disc. Both procedures are performed through a small incision without disrupting the surrounding muscles. For this reason, our patients experience a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication than patients who choose traditional open back surgery.

To see if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive spine surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute today and request a review of your MRI report or CT scan.