Press "Enter" to skip to content

Herniated Discs of the Thoracic Spine

Last updated on June 12, 2021

As we age we all know someone with a bad back or we’re unlucky enough to have a bad back our self. In fact, eight percent of all adults in the U.S. experience back pain to the extent that it causes significant limitations on their daily activities, and it is the leading cause of work loss.

One of the worst back injuries, short of paralysis, that a person can suffer from is a herniated disc. Most herniated discs occur in the lumbar spine. In fact, 90% of all herniated discs occur in the lower back, or lumbar spine. Eight percent of all herniated discs occur in the neck, or cervical spine. And only 1-2 percent of all herniated discs occur in the thoracic spine. Seeking the help of a Back doctor in Austin Texas might not be enough in such cases, which require assessment by someone more experienced. 

The thoracic spine is the area that lies in the middle of the back. One way of understanding it is to think about where a woman’s bra strap is located. That area is the middle of the thoracic, also known as the dorsal, spine. All herniated discs, whether in the lumbar, cervical, or thoracic spine, can cause severe pain.

However, herniations of the thoracic spine frequently are misdiagnosed. Physicians often fail to run the necessary tests because so few people suffer from this problem. Worse yet, doctors frequently mistakenly diagnose the patient’s problems as something completely different and prescribe treatment that is contrary to the patient’s needs. However, the doctors usually cannot be blamed for this type of misdiagnosis because these herniations often mimic other types of disorders from abdominal, to heart, to lower limb, to kidney problems. Some patients go as far as having surgeries for other problems, such as gallbladder removal, hoping that it will cure their pain. It is often many months and a long process of elimination before a physician decides to perform an MRI of the thoracic spine.

The pain from a herniated in any part of the spine has a tendency to radiate when severe. However, the pain from a herniated in the thoracic spine, when the injury is in the upper thoracic spine, does not merely radiate down; the pain from a herniated of the thoracic spine will radiate around the chest and squeeze the sufferer as if they were in a vise. However, like a lumbar herniation, the pain can still radiate down.

Sometimes a herniated disc of the thoracic spine will cause severe bowl or bladder dysfunction. When this occurs the situation becomes an emergency because paralysis could be imminent if surgery does not take place immediately.

While surgery options have improved for sufferers of herniations of the thoracic spine with the advent of the microectomy surgery, there still aren’t any ideal treatments for individuals suffering from this problem. Epidurals, that is, steroid injections, aren’t as effective for these herniated s as they are for lumbar and cervical herniations. Nor has the microectomy of the thoracic spine proven effective for the same percentage of people as the laminotomy and discectomy of the lumbar spine. Heat and ice are helpful for some people, but often a sufferer must live the rest of their lives with a regiment of anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxers, and narcotics for the occasional severe pain days.

Nevertheless, a sufferer should not despair. It is important to keep a good attitude in order to keep pain levels low. Depression, anxiety, and simply a bad attitude toward life will make it difficult to ward off pain while positive thinking will go a long way toward living a normal life despite suffering from a thoracic herniations.