Treating Thoracic Spinal Disc Herniations

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi


Treating Thoracic Spinal Disc Herniations

Up to 15 percent of Americans will experience a herniated disc in their thoracic spine at some point in their life, although not everyone will experience symptoms. If you do experience issues related to a herniated disc in your thoracic spine, you’re probably looking for answers. Today, we take a look at the causes, symptoms and treatment options for a herniated disc in your thoracic spine.

Causes and Symptoms of Thoracic Disc Herniations

Your spine is made up of three levels; the cervical spine at the top, the thoracic spine in the middle, and your lumbar spine at the base. Your spine is made up of 24 vertebrae, and the thoracic portion is comprised of the middle 12 vertebrae. The lower section of your thoracic spine is more flexible than the top half, and for this reason, about 75 percent of thoracic disc herniations affect vertebraes T8 through T12, with the most occurring on T11 or T12.

The main cause of a herniated disc in the thoracic region is normal wear and tear on the spine, which explains why the majority of people who experience the condition are between 40- and 60-years-old. The disc weakens over time, and the nucleus of the disc can squeeze out through the damaged outer layer, resulting in herniation. In less common cases, a herniated disc can be the result of an acute injury or a related spinal disease.

Symptoms of a thoracic disc herniation include:

  • Regionalized pain
  • Pins and needles-like sensation
  • Numbness
  • Arm and leg weakness
  • Bowel or bladder disruption

Diagnosis and Treatment of Thoracic Disc Herniation

The condition is typically diagnosed after a physical exam and with the help of imaging techniques. Your doctor will see which movements cause pain and what appears on an MRI exam, as this type of imaging technique allows the doctor to see the soft tissues in the area. Once the doctor has diagnosed the condition, treatment can begin.

Treatment for a thoracic disc herniation can be either surgical or nonsurgical. In most cases, doctors will proceed with conservative treatment before attempting surgery, but an operation may be necessary at the outset should the herniated disc jeopardize other spinal structures. Some common nonsurgical techniques include immobilization, bracing, pain medications, muscle relaxants, oral steroids, physical therapy or pain injections, and oftentimes these techniques are used in combination with one another. The majority of patients get better without surgery.

Surgery is dependent on the location of the herniation and the extent of the problem. The most common types of surgery for a herniated disc in the thoracic spine include:

  • Discectomy
  • Transthoracic Decompression
  • Video Assisted Thoracoscopy Surgery (VATS)
  • Fusion

Recovery after thoracic disc herniation is dependent on the operation. Some patients can leave the surgery center the same day, while others need to stay for a few days. Patients should follow their surgeon’s specific instructions and should avoid excessive physical activity for a few weeks. For more information about the operation, contact a spinal surgeon today.

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