Our spine is what supports our entire body and allows us to stand upright, bend, twist, and basically do everything (due to the connection between our brains and the rest of our bodies through the spinal nerve root). We can divide the spine into cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. The thoracic spine is in the mid back region, between the neck and lower back.
The spinal column is formed by 24 vertebrae, which are discs that are stacked on top of one another. Between two vertebrae, there’s a disc of tissue called inter-vertebral disc, and its purpose is to absorb shock and protect the spine from any harsh force or movement as we run, jump or lift things.
This disc can experience wear and tear through the years and it can cause the spongy tissue to squeeze from a tear on the side of the disc, and this is what’s known as disc herniation. This can happen due to car accidents, falls, or any major trauma, as well as forceful twists of the mid-back or diseases such as Scheuermann’s disease.
The herniated disc will protrude into the spinal canal and will push against the spinal cord that passes through the spinal column. This can cause damage to the spinal cord and they can also block blood flow from the only blood vessel that travels to the front of the spinal cord, which can cause the death of nerve tissues in the spinal cord.
Thoracic Disc Herniation Symptoms
Thoracic disc herniation symptoms will vary depending on the position and the size of the injury, nerve irritation or injury, and the amount of spinal cord damage. Generally speaking, the symptoms include mid-back pain, pain in the chest that can mimic heart problems, groin pain, weakness at the legs and arms, numbness, and it can also affect bowel and bladder function.
Thoracic Disc Herniation Treatment
Thoracic disc herniation can be treated non-surgically, if the kind of injury allows it, with rest, medication, the use of a back brace, and physical therapy. If this kind of treatment doesn’t work in the long term to relief pain or decrease the effect of the injury on the spinal cord, surgery will definitely be considered.
Surgical action is meant to remove part of or the entire herniated disc so that it stops pressing on the nerve or the spinal cord. This kind of surgery is called Discectomy and it can be performed on the front side, the back side or to the side.
Discectomy on the front side is called anterior approach and it consists of an open thoracotomy, where the herniated disc is reached through the chest cavity.
An alternative to this procedure is the Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery, which is a minimally invasive procedure where a thoracoscope is used, which means it only requires small incisions, because this surgical tool has a tiny camera that will provide footage to guide the surgeon.
Discectomy on the back is called posterolateral approach and the herniated disc is accessed through an incision and the removal of a part of the rib to create access to the disc.