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4 Little-known Thoracic Herniated Disc Symptoms

Dr. Douglas VanderPloeg - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An extraordinary number of people have structural problems with their thoracic discs. Let’s look at what a thoracic herniated disc is, along with statistics and little-known symptoms.

What is a thoracic herniated disc?

The thoracic spine is the part of your backbone that includes your upper and middle back. It runs from the cervical spine of your neck down approximately 5 inches beneath the shoulder blades, where it ends at the lumbar spine. It includes a total of twelve vertebrae, called T1-T12. In between each of those vertebrae are thoracic spinal discs.

Thoracic herniated discs are a structural issue that develops in a person when the gelatinous substance that is inside one of the spinal discs pushes out into the surrounding area. “A spinal disk is a little like a jelly donut, with a softer center encased within a tougher exterior,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “Sometimes called a slipped disk or a ruptured disk, a herniated disk occurs when some of the softer ‘jelly’ pushes out through a crack in the tougher exterior.”

Shocking number of people with thoracic disc problems

This health condition is actually incredibly common. In one study, 90 patients that had no symptoms were assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Shockingly, the data revealed that:

  • Nearly 3 in 4 (73%) had upper-back disc problems such as degenerative disc disease or a thoracic herniated disc.
  • More than 1 in 3 (37%) had thoracic herniated discs.
  • The spinal cords of nearly 1 in 3 (29%) were compressed in their upper backs.

Strangely, the patients in the study were studied for more than two years, but none of them started to experience upper back pain.

However, many people who have thoracic herniated discs do experience pain and other symptoms. Disc herniation can actually cause problems in two ways:

  1. When the gelatinous substance, called the nucleus pulposus, comes out of the disc, it enters the spinal canal and impinges the nerve root.
  2. The nucleus pulposus also chemically aggravates the nerve root.

The dual issues of pressure directly on the nerve root and chemical aggravation leads to herniated disc symptoms including pain, loss of strength, and lack of feeling.

4 little-known herniated disc symptoms

Interestingly, a thoracic herniated disc often doesn’t lead to back pain but other symptoms, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Keep in mind that the issue is nerve compression, which can mean symptoms far away, in the legs:

  1. Radiating pain
  2. Loss of feeling or pins-and-needles sensations
  3. Reduced strength
  4. Spasticity (continual contraction of the muscles).

Expert help

Are you suffering from pain or other symptoms of a thoracic herniated disc? Avoid spine surgery and relieve neuropathy pain with advanced, non-surgical treatment at Maine Spine & Nerve. See our Patient Success Stories.


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Dr.  Douglas VanderPloegDr. Douglas VanderPleog, Maine Spine & Nerve Institute
Dr. VanderPloeg has been a guest lecturer at multiple hospitals and has served on several professional boards. He is a Diplomat of both the American Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the Canadian Board of Chiropractic Examiners. 
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