An annular tear, or a rupture in the fibrous outer wall of an intervertebral disc, is far less common within the thoracic (mid-back) region of the spine than in the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions. This is because the 12 thoracic vertebrae are anchored by the rib cage and are therefore subjected to far less stress-inducing movement than the cervical and lumbar regions. Still, intervertebral discs within the thoracic region are somewhat vulnerable to age-related deterioration, wherein the discs lose water content and weaken.
While the likelihood of an annular tear might be lower in the thoracic region, the effects are similar to an annular tear in the cervical or lumbar regions. That is, an annular tear in and of itself is not going to produce symptoms. Only when material from the gel-like nucleus leaks through the annular tear and makes contact with the spinal cord or an adjacent nerve root will symptoms arise.
Symptoms of thoracic nerve compression
The nerve roots associated with the thoracic region are known as intercostals (“between the ribs”) and innervate the abdominal area, along with many internal organs. The areas of the body affected by symptoms will depend on the location of the nerve compression, which can take place at any level from the first thoracic vertebra (T1) to the last (T12). Thoracic nerve compression symptoms might include:
- Upper back pain
- Upper back myelopathy
- Numbness or tingling in the area of the kidneys
- Discomfort surrounding the lungs
- Tightness or weakness in the area of the diaphragm
- Radiating pain in the abdomen
- Radiating pain into the chest wall
- Paralysis from the waist down (in extreme cases)
Treatment for an annular tear in the thoracic spine
More often than not, symptoms associated with an annular tear in the thoracic spine can be managed with conservative methods, including pain medicine, exercise, stretching and others.