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The Thoracic Spine: Anatomy, Function, and Common Injuries

Thoracic Spine

The Thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12) and is located in the upper and mid back. The top of the thoracic spine links with the cervical spine and the bottom joins with the lumbar spine. The discs between each vertebra are thinner than those in the cervical and lumbar regions; there is less shock absorption needed because the thoracic section is the least flexible of the three, although there is some give in the mid-back.

Thoracic vertebrae are bigger than cervical but smaller than the lumbar vertebrae and grow in size as they descend. The thoracic spine has the same type of curve, called lordosis, which looks like a “C,” as the lumbar area.

The main purpose of the thoracic spine is to provide stability. Unlike other sections of the vertebral column, the thoracic vertebrae connect with the ribs to form a strong, protective enclosure for vital organs such as the heart and lungs.

Some common injuries and conditions that individuals experience in the thoracic spine are:

  • Muscular problems that cause upper back pain, known as myofascial pain
  • Degenerative or herniated discs, which tend to be less common because of the lack of mobility
  • Joint disorders resulting from the connection between thoracic vertebrae in the ribs
  • Arthritis that has developed because of repetitive stress and general wear and tear
  • Compression fractures as a consequence of the effects of osteoporosis
  • Kyphosis caused by a genetic defect or poor posture
  • Scoliosis, and abnormal and severe sideways spinal curvature

Pain from a thoracic spine condition or injury may respond well to a conservative approach of pain medication, rest, activity modification, therapeutic exercise, massage, and chiropractic care, particularly if it is a muscular problem. If the issue is severe, the best choice may be surgery. Many facilities now offer minimally invasive procedures as a treatment option, as well as traditional invasive interventions.

If you have a mid-back injury and would like to learn about our treatment choices from one of our specialists, please contact our Seguin or New Braunfels offices.

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