Thoracic spine

The thoracic spine is the section of the spine that stretches from neck to the lower back and is commonly referred to as the “middle back.”

There are 12 vertebrae that make up the thoracic spine. These vertebrae connect to the rib cage and provide support and stability to the upper body. Because the thoracic vertebrae play a key support role in the rib cage and upper body, there is no movement in this area of the spine. This limited range of motion helps prevent the thoracic spine from developing many of the degenerative spine conditions in the discs that are caused by the natural wear and tear of the spine — conditions commonly found in the highly mobile areas of the cervical spine and the lumbar spine.

The 12 vertebrae of the thoracic spine increase in size as they move down the back. The structure of the T1 – T8 vertebrae includes a prominent spinous process, which accounts for the knobs you feel through the skin in the center of your back. These knobs level out after the first eight vertebrae of the thoracic spine.

Nerve pathways in the thoracic spine

The nerve pathways throughout the spine allow the nerves to travel from the spine to the rest of the body, relaying signals of pain, sensation and movement from the brain to the extremities. While the nerve pathways in the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back) connect to the arms and legs, respectively, the pathways in the thoracic spine carry nerve signals to the following areas in the body:

  • Hands
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Abdomen
  • Ribs

For example, a person with a pinched nerve in the T5 – T6 area may feel pain that travels from the spine and wraps around the side of the rib cage into the chest. Because pain in the chest can also be symptoms of a cardiac condition, you should always seek medical attention if you experience this pain.

To learn more about the thoracic spine and the spine conditions that can cause pain and discomfort in this area of the back, please contact Laser Spine Institute. Our spine care experts are here to answer your questions and help you on your journey to pain relief.