The term thoracic refers to your upper or middle back. When a disc herniates in this section of the spine it is called a thoracic disc herniation—read on to visualize how this occurs and the types of symptoms it can lead to.
Thoracic herniated disc video highlights
Either due to trauma or through a degenerative process that occurs over time, the tough outer layers of the disc—called the annulus fibrosus—can break down and allow the jelly-like inner core—called the nucleus pulposus—to leak out or extrude.
A thoracic disc may herniate to the side and affect a nerve root as it exits the spine. This is called a lateral herniation.
Pain from a lateral thoracic herniation may travel along the path of the affected nerve root, which can cause you to experience pain in your back, chest, or abdomen. The medical term for this type of nerve pain is a radiculopathy.
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A thoracic spinal disc can also herniate back towards the spinal cord, called central herniation. If this is the case, you may experience a range of neurological symptoms including numbness below the vertebral level where your disc has herniated. In serious instances, centrally herniated thoracic discs may cause myelopathy—a range of symptoms indicating that the spinal cord has been affected.
Watch: Myelopathy Video
It is possible for your thoracic discs to herniate both to the side and back into the spinal cord and to experience a combination of both the radicular pain and neurological symptoms.
A disc is more likely to herniate towards the bottom of the lower thoracic spine, where the thoracic spine meets the lumbar spine—called the thoraco-lumbar junction, as this section of the spine has less stability.
Herniated discs in your thoracic spine are usually treatable without surgical intervention, though particularly severe cases may warrant surgery.