The vast majority of thoracic herniated disc symptoms can be treated without thoracic surgery. There are a variety of non-surgical treatment options that can be tried, and often patients will need to try several, or a combination of different treatments, to find what works best for them.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Thoracic Herniated Discs

Core strengthening exercises aim to strengthen the spine and relieve back pain.

Non-surgical treatment options for symptoms of a thoracic herniated disc will typically include one or a combination of the following:

  • A short period of rest (e.g. one or two days) and activity modification (eliminating the activities and positions that worsen or cause the thoracic back pain). After a short period or rest, the patient should return to activity as tolerated. Gentle exercise, such as walking, is a good way to return to activity.
  • Narcotic and non-narcotic analgesic medications to help reduce the thoracic back pain. Narcotic pain medication is usually only prescribed to treat severe upper back pain for a short period of time. For mild or moderate thoracic back pain, an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) is commonly recommended for thoracic herniated discs.

See Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain


The patient’s activity levels should be progressed gradually over a 6 to 12 week period as symptoms improve. In the vast majority of cases, the natural history of thoracic disc herniation is one of improvement with one or a combination of the above conservative (non-operative) treatments.

Dr. David DeWitt is an orthopedic surgeon practicing at the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin, where he specializes in spine surgery. He has more than 15 years of experience evaluating and treating spine diseases and trauma.