The Thoracic Disc Lesion

Your spine consists of 24 individual vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Flexible cushions called “discs” live between each set of vertebra. A disc is made up of two basic parts. The inner disc, called the “nucleus” is like a ball of jelly about the size of a marble. This jelly is held in place by the outer part of the disc called the “annulus,” which is wrapped around the inner nucleus,

much like a ribbon wrapping around your finger. The term “thoracic disc lesion” means that one or more of the 12 discs in the center section of your spine has been damaged.

Disc problems start when the outer fibers of the disc become strained or frayed. If enough fibers become frayed, the disc weakens and when compressed, may “bulge” like a weak spot on an inner tube. If more fibers are damaged, the nucleus of the disc may “herniate” out of the disc.

Surprisingly, thoracic disc bulges are present without any symptoms in almost half of the adult population. Disc bulges that cause pain commonly occur in the neck or lower back but are relatively infrequent in the thoracic spine – accounting for less than 1% of all symptomatic disc problems. The condition is most common between the ages of 40 and 60. Certain occupations or activities place you at greater risk, especially physically demanding activities that involve repetitive twisting, awkward postures.

Pain can range from dull, localized discomfort to sharp, radiating pain. Your symptoms may change unpredictably. If the disc bulge is bad enough to compress your nerve, you could experience sharp, burning, or shooting pain in a band-like distribution around your rib cage. Thoracic disc herniations commonly mimick other conditions like heart or lung problems. Be sure to let our office know if you notice chest pressure; shortness of breath; pain radiating into your arm, face, or jaw; pain with deep breathing; clumsiness; loss of bowel or bladder control; unexplained weight loss; night sweats; pain that awakens you at night; fever; indigestion; nausea; flu-like symptoms or if you notice a rash following the margin of one of your ribs.

You should avoid excessive bed rest while recovering. Researchers have shown that disc bulges may be successfully managed with exercise and conservative care, like the type we will provide.


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