Herniated Disc | Herniated Thoracic Disc (Middle Back)

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Herniated Thoracic Disc (Middle Back)

herniated disc

A herniated thoracic disc is a back condition that occurs in the middle or upper back. It is by far not as frequent as a neck, or a lower back disc herniation, but can become equally painful in some cases.

The most common level for a herniated, or slipped disc in the thoracic spine is towards the lower back, between the t8, t9, t10, t11 and t12 vertebrae.

This post talks about the main symptoms and the best treatment methods for the condition.



Symptoms of a Herniating Disc in the Thoracic Spine

Many times, bulging or herniating discs in this region remain undiscovered, as there are no symptoms at all. If present, the most frequent thoracic bulging disc symptom is pain in the upper and middle back region. However, if a spinal nerve is affected by the disc herniation, there may be other forms of pain involved.

If the bulge irritates a nerve root, the patient may feel radiating pain in the chest area as well as the abdomen. A herniation on a higher thoracic level can also affect the arms. Numbness and tingling sensations in the regions served by the affected nerve can be typical symptoms, as well as weakness of some of these body parts.

In some rare cases, the spinal cord itself gets impinged by the herniating disc, which can result in a so-called myelopathy. This is a serious injury of the spinal canal that can lead to more severe problems like partial paralysis. Immediate medical attention and often surgery will be necessary in this exceptional case.



Treatment Options

Initially, the treatment for a prolapsed thoracic disc should consist of enough rest and relaxation of the spine. Anti-inflammatory medication or an epidural can help decompress the spine and thus relieve some of the pain.

Physical therapy is a very often prescribed treatment method to decompress, strengthen and relax the spine. Many times, patients also turn to alternative therapies such as acupuncture or chiropractic.

Maybe the most important part in the process of treating such a condition is strengthening the back and correct wrong postures and misalignments in order to get long term relief. This can be most efficiently done with a combination of back pain exercises and other therapy methods that are specifically designed to treat the patient’s unique condition.

Thoracic Spine Surgery as a Last Resort

If every other treatment method fails, or if the spinal cord is affected, the next thing to consider is a surgery for herniated back discs.



One of the most used procedure in this case is a posterior or posterolateral laminectomy or discectomy,  where parts of the bone or the disc itself are removed through a small incision in the back to take the pressure off the compressed nerve.

Another approach that is technically more complicated and risky, but more effective than a posterior approach, is the trans-thoracic surgery. In this case, one or several incisions are made through the chest to reach the location of the disc.

As there can be complications and unwanted side effects from a surgery, it should really be seen as a last alternative. If possible, take some time and effort to focus on the real cause of your herniation instead on the symptoms. Constantly educate yourself with the help of spine experts and your own research to better understand your unique condition. This will help you figure out which treatments are best for you.


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