The thoracic region of the spinal column is made up of 12 segments referred to as T1 - T12. It is located in the middle of the spine between the cervical and lumbar levels.

The 12 thoracic vertebrae which make up this section of the spine connect directly to the rib cage. Nerve roots exit the spinal column at each vertebral level of the spine. The nerves and spinal cord at the thoracic level communicate with the central parts of the body.

Injuries to the spinal cord tissue or nerve roots impact physical function according to their vertebral level. The cord and nerve tissues correlating to the upper thoracic vertebrae levels regulate the following:

  • T1 vertebrae: the medial side of the forearm, and flexes the wrist
  • T2 vertebrae: the posterior aspect of the upper arms
  • T3 vertebrae: the pectoral area in the chest
  • T4, T5, T6, T7, & T8 vertebrae: the remaining muscles in the chest and trunk of the body

Spinal cord injuries in the thoracic region are rare due to the rib cage protecting the spine. Much like cervical spine injuries, damage to the thoracic spine may be characterized as complete or incomplete, and may affect one or both sides of the body.

The completeness of the spinal cord damage will determine how severe the injury truly is and how the patient can expect to recover. 

Thoracic Spinal Cord Symptoms

Patients with an injury at the T1 - T8 levels may experience:

  • Lack of function in the legs and/or torso, resulting in paraplegia
  • Lack of dexterity in the fingers and/or hands
  • Reduced ability or inability to control the abdominal muscles or trunk of the body
  • Lack of bowel and/or bladder function

Causes of Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries

The most common causes of thoracic spinal cord injuries are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Tumors
  • Birth defects

Injury Treatment

Treatment for thoracic spinal cord injuries is aimed at strengthening the body as a whole and preserving any remaining function that remains after the injury.

Current treatments available for spinal cord patients are:

  • Drugs: Anti-inflammatory drugs are used immediately upon diagnosis of a spinal cord injury. This is to aid in lessening the inflammation in the affected area and encourage motor and sensory function.
  • Surgery: Patients may need to have decompression surgery to relieve pressure from the spine and surrounding nerves. Fusion may also be done in order to stabilize the damaged area to ensure further damage does not occur.
  • Therapy: Physical and occupational therapy are an important part of recovery from a spinal cord injury.  

Additional Information about the Thoracic Spine

Thoracic spinal cord injuries are rare and only account for 10 - 15 percent of all spinal cord injuries. The thoracic spine is surrounded by the rib cage and it is much harder to damage the spinal cord in this area. Thoracic spinal cord injuries are less severe than other injuries to the spinal cord, and the further down the spine the injury occurs, the greater chance for at least partial recovery.

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