Thoracic Spine Injuries
Fractures are common but serious causes of injury to the thoracic spine.
The thoracic spine is located between the cervical spine (neck) and the lumbar spine (low back). Humans have 12 thoracic vertebrae, which run the length of the chest cavity, or the rib cage.
Injuries to the thoracic spine include fractures, whether caused by a car crash, sports accident, violence, fall from height, or other high-velocity accident. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states that the most common fractures to the spine occur in the thoracic and lumbar spine, and that men are four times more likely to experience fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine than women. Seniors with weakened bone structure are also particularly at risk for these kinds of fractures.
Other events or conditions can lead to fractures of the thoracic spine, such as osteoporosis, tumors or other diseases. These have the potential to weaken a person’s bones, leading to a fracture. In these cases, a fracture is possible even during everyday activities.
Symptoms of a thoracic injury may include pain, tingling sensations, numbness or a dull ache. If the spinal cord has also been injured, the condition is very serious, and further symptoms may include bowel/bladder dysfunction and/or paralysis.
According to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, When spinal injuries occur at chest level, symptoms can affect the legs. Injuries to the cervical or high thoracic spinal cord may also result in blood pressure problems, abnormal sweating, and trouble maintaining normal body temperature.
Treatment for thoracic spine injuries depends on the exact nature and extent of the injury. Many can be treated by making the individual wear a brace for two to three months and only gradually increase mobility.
Surgery will typically be required to treat those injuries which have caused significant damage to nerves or the spinal cord, involve a very unstable fracture, or have caused significant internal scattering of fracture fragments. The overall goals during surgery will be to stabilize the bones (fitting them back together) and relieve pressure on the spinal cord, often through the removal of whatever is pressing on the spinal cord (laminectomy).
Patients affected by thoracic spine injuries will often be required to undergo some kind of rehabilitation, through which it is usually possible to reduce pain and regain mobility.