Thoracic Herniated Disc

What Is It?

A thoracic herniated disc is a bulging of an intervertebral disc in the thoracic region of the spinal column. The thoracic region, in the mid back in the area of the thorax (below the cervical spine in the neck and above the lumbar spine), is a rare location for a herniated disc. A thoracic disc occurs much less frequently than either a cervical or lumbar disc, both of which are very common.

What Types of Symptoms Are Typical?

Like herniated discs elsewhere, the symptoms depend entirely on the exact location and severity of the herniation. A thoracic disc occurs in a region where there are no nerve roots that supply the arms or legs. Therefore, unlike the cervical and lumbar discs, you do not typically see symptoms in the extremities related to the irritation of a nerve root. A thoracic herniated disc can cause pain and sensory changes along the back and side of the body.

However, if the disc herniation is large enough, it can compress the spinal cord itself in the thoracic region. This can lead to symptoms that affect the lower extremity including sensory symptoms and motor weakness of the hips and legs. These symptoms are very similar to those that may present with a cervical herniated disc, except that they do not involve the arms.

How Is The Diagnosis Typically Made?

If a patient presents with signs and symptoms that appear consistent with spinal disease or a thoracic disc in particular, they are often evaluated with an MRI scan of the spine, including the thoracic spine. This imaging study can clearly demonstrate a disc bulge or herniation, helping to define its location, severity and whether there is any compression of nervous system structures such as nerve roots or the spinal cord.

What Are Some Common Treatments?

Treatment varies depending on the specifics of each case. While some small herniations may be managed conservatively, without surgery, some will require a surgical discectomy. Because of the anatomy of the thoracic spine, these procedures can be somewhat more involved than in the lumbar region. A posterior or anterior approach (through the thoracic cavity) can be taken depending on the specific anatomy and location of the disc.

Because each patient is different, specific treatment options should be discussed with their own treating physician.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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