The spinal canal is a hollow passage in the vertebrae through which the spinal cord runs. Each nerve root of the spinal cord branches out and travels through the opening (foramen) on either side of the vertebrae. Thoracic spinal stenosis is a degenerative condition that affects the spinal canal between the neck and lower back. It is a narrowing of the spinal canal from the degeneration of bones, disc herniation, or thickening of the tissues that surround the spinal cord. Thoracic spinal stenosis is not as common as either lumbar stenosis or cervical stenosis and is commonly seen in patients with underlying diseases that cause abnormal bone growth.
Spinal stenosis forms as a result of age-related changes to the spinal canal. The stress and strain of normal wear and tear, results in degeneration of the spine’s discs, bones and joints. As the discs that cushion the vertebrae begin to deteriorate, the vertebrae slip out of alignment and rub against one another. This can result in the formation of bone spurs that may protrude into the spinal canal, reducing the available space to the spinal cord.
Symptoms of thoracic spinal stenosis include burning sensations in the thighs or calves, a dull ache in the lower back, pain in the ribs, back and legs, pain in one or more internal organs, and problems with balance and coordination. Patients will typically present with difficulty rotating their torso, as that is a function of the thoracic spine. Treatment options include rest, anti-inflammatory medications, epidural steroid injections, chiropractic care, activity modification, and physical therapy. If conservative treatment options are unsuccessful, or if the patient is suffering from extreme pain or physical limitations, surgery may be required to remove any obstructions and to repair the spine.