A guide to the T4 vertebra

The fourth thoracic vertebra, known as the T4 vertebra, is located in the upper region of the middle back and plays an important role in supporting the rib cage.

The thoracic spine is relatively stable compared to the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) spinal regions because most of it is fixed to the ribcage. This stability means that middle back pain is less common than neck or lower back pain because of the limited mobility, which leads to a reduced risk of developing a degenerative spine condition.

Function of the T4 vertebra and thoracic spine

While the lumbar and cervical spine segments also support significant weight, they are also required to provide a wider range of motion, exponentially increasing the likelihood of wear and tear.

In contrast, the thoracic spine needs to be much less flexible, so the T4 vertebra and other vertebrae in the thoracic segment are instead built to bear the burden of supporting the ribs with a stable foundation. This stability is accomplished two ways:

  • The T4 vertebra, like most vertebrae, has two sets of matching facet joints. These cartilage-coated facet joints connect to the adjacent vertebrae, in this case T3 and T5, and are covered with a thick lubricating fluid. This allows the joints to move and provide limited motion but also ensures an extremely strong bond by limiting the degree of flexibility.
  • The first 10 thoracic vertebrae, numbered T1 through T10, also connect to individual ribs, bonding the spine to the rib cage. This stabilizes the rib cage and protects the vital internal organs in the torso.

Problems affecting the T4 vertebra

While less vulnerable than the other spinal regions, the facet joints in the thoracic spine are still prone to age-related degeneration, which can lead to painful symptoms. If these symptoms occur, you may experience pain and discomfort in the middle of the back or along the rib cage and chest.

For many patients, several weeks or months of conservative treatment like pain medication and physical therapy can reduce these symptoms. Your doctor can help you find the right treatment plan for your needs. However, if you require spine surgery, you should contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about our safer and effective alternative^ to traditional open back surgery.

Our minimally invasive spine surgery is designed to treat degenerative spine conditions without the lengthy recovery time^ and increased risk of infection associated with traditional open back surgery. To find out if one of our minimally invasive decompression or minimally invasive stabilization procedures can help you, reach out to Laser Spine Institute today.

We are happy to offer a no-cost review* of your MRI or CT scan to help you find out if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.