Thoracic spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal in the mid to upper back, is one of the least common forms of spinal stenosis. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with thoracic spinal stenosis or think you might be suffering from it, there are treatments that can help alleviate the pain and give you your life back.
About Thoracic Spinal Stenosis
Thoracic spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space that runs up the center of your spine, known as the spinal canal. It stretches the length of 12 vertebrae, numbered T1 – T12. The symptoms experienced due to this condition is typically from bone tissue of the vertebrae, bone spurs, ligaments or discs pushing into and narrowing the spinal canal, placing pressure on your nerve roots and spinal cord.
This condition differs from spinal stenosis which affects the cervical (neck) region or the lumbar (lower back) region in that the thoracic vertebrae are attached to the ribs. This makes the thoracic part of your spine less flexible than the other areas. Despite this, the thoracic spine is important in that it provides support that allows the body to rotate and move side-to-side.
Common Symptoms of Thoracic Spinal Stenosis
The symptoms of thoracic spinal stenosis can vary from person to person. Some people may display a whole range of symptoms while others only experience a couple. The most common symptoms experienced are numbness in the legs and/or feet and unsteadiness, in some instances, making it difficult to walk. It’s also not unusual to experience pain in the thoracic region of your back, ribs, and sometimes in the legs. Pain as a symptom, however, is often absent.
Diagnosis of Thoracic Spinal Stenosis
Diagnosing thoracic spinal stenosis includes a full health history and physical exam. Your doctor will ask you questions that will help him or her pinpoint symptoms, how long they have been present and potential problems. Once it’s determined that you may be suffering from thoracic spinal stenosis, you will be sent for imaging. This can include X-rays and an MRI or CT scan to view the inner part of your spinal canal.
Treatment Options for Thoracic Spinal Stenosis
Treatment for thoracic spinal stenosis usually requires surgery because symptoms are usually due to spinal cord compression. Although physical therapy has an important role in recovery, it is not a substitute for surgery. Usually, surgical treatment consists of a removal of the bone, ligament, and/or disc material that is compressing the spinal cord and a stabilization/fusion procedure.