When a thoracic spine herniated disc occurs, it is extremely serious. The thoracic area is the middle back, and there is very little extra space around the spinal cord in this region.
The intervertebral discs are quarter-sized cushions that are filled with a soft, gel-like substance. They serve as shock absorbers and help provide incredible range of motion. The inner portion is called the nucleus pulposus, and the tough, fibrous outer ring is known as the annulus. When the inner soft material ruptures out through the annulus, it is considered “herniated.”
Discs can rupture suddenly due to too much pressure all at one on the spine, such as with a fall from a ladder or landing in a sitting position. Discs rupture from bending over, lifting something too heavy, force on the disc, or from repeated injuries that weaken the annulus fibers over time. The material that ruptures into the spinal canal can pose pressure on the nerves in the canal.
Back pain is the main symptom of a thoracic herniated disc. The symptoms of tingling, weakness, and numbness that affect an extremity occur from irritation and pressure on nerves. Other symptoms include muscle weakness in one or both legs, increased reflexes in one or both legs, spasticity of the legs, and pain that travels around the trunk of the body and into one or both legs.
Making the diagnosis of a herniated disc begins with a thorough history of the problem as well as a comprehensive physical examination. The main test used to diagnose a herniated disc is an MRI scan, which shows high resolution images of the spinal cord and nerve roots along with the discs. Finally, nerve conduction studies may be used to assess nerve involvement.
Not everyone who has a herniated disc undergoes surgery. Treatment options may include:
Perez-Lara FJ, Berges AF, Quesada JQ, et al. (2012). Thoracic Disk Herniation, a not Infrequent Cause of Chronic Abdominal Pain. Int Surg, 97(1), 27-33.