Thoracic Stenosis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Personal Care

It is the narrowing of the spinal canal in the thoracic spine, located in the middle of the back.

The spinal canal is the pathway that contains the spinal cord and central nervous system, which allows nerve roots to send signals between the spinal column and the brain .

While spinal stenosis is a common result of the natural aging process of the spine and other degenerative spinal conditions, it is less likely to develop in the thoracic spine and other more flexible areas of the spine.

As is the neck ( cervical spine ) and lower back (lumbar spine).

Causes of thoracic stenosis

Thoracic spinal stenosis can occur as a result of natural aging; This is why older adults are more likely to develop this condition. However, other factors also play an essential role.

People suffering from thickened tissues, bone spurs, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, bulging discs, arthritic spurs, are more likely to develop thoracic spinal stenosis because their spinal canal has been compromised.

The causes of thoracic spinal stenosis vary widely. Age is by far the most common cause of thoracic spinal stenosis. In some cases, congenital factors, such as being born with a narrower spinal canal, can lead to thoracic stenosis. Other causes of thoracic spinal stenosis can include:

  • Arthritis.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Thicker ligaments.
  • Herniated spinal discs.
  • Excess bone growth.
  • Degenerate facet joints.
  • Compression fractures.
  • Spondylolisthesis.

However, the thoracic spine is still susceptible to age-related conditions that can cause stenosis, such as:

  • Herniated disc.
  • Bone spurs or osteophytes.
  • Spinal arthritis


The symptoms of thoracic spinal stenosis are different from the symptoms associated with spinal stenosis in the cervical or lumbar spine. The most common symptoms experienced with thoracic spinal stenosis include:

  • Limited ability to rotate the torso.
  • Difficulty moving from one side to the other.
  • Sharp pain in the back that radiates to the lower back and legs.
  • Pain or discomfort in the legs.
  • Dificulty to walk.
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction.
  • Paralysis – in rare cases.
  • Pain in the ribs and / or internal organs.

Because the spinal canal stores nerve roots, narrowing this passage can increase the risk of nerve compression.

Nerve compression in the thoracic spine can cause pain and symptoms that can spread from the back to the neck, shoulders, chest, arms, and hands, depending on the exact location of the pinched nerve.

Symptoms of thoracic spinal stenosis are the result of the positioning of the spinal area that is being affected. The thoracic vertebrae are located in the middle of the back and connect to the ribs. So, the symptoms of this condition tend to affect the middle of the body and lower.

Tingling sensations

Thoracic spinal stenosis can cause strange sensations in the chest, legs, feet, and occasionally the arms and hands. The sensation usually feels like a tingling.

Occasional feelings of numbness in the hands, feet, and chest are not uncommon. The location of the sensation generally depends on where the stenosis is occurring.

For example, if the stenosis is in the lower area of ​​the thoracic vertebra, the tingling sensation may occur in the legs or waist area.


Pain is often a symptom of chest stenosis. It can range from a dull ache to a burning sensation. Pain tends to stay in a certain area rather than radiate or travel through the body. Common pains are often found in the back, upper thighs, and calves.

Muscle problems

Spinal stenosis can often cause muscles to weaken, particularly in the legs. This can lead to weak or stiff legs and can cause problems with gait and movement in general.

Diagnosis of thoracic stenosis

The diagnosis of thoracic stenosis begins with a complete physical examination and a thorough review of the medical history. During diagnosis, a doctor will evaluate current symptoms, movements that may trigger pain, and the severity of symptoms.

Some imaging tests and other tests can help rule out tumors, diabetes, arthritis, and other conditions that can interfere with the diagnosis.

Exams and tests

Once the preliminary diagnosis is complete, imaging tests can help confirm the diagnosis of thoracic spinal stenosis and locate the exact source of the problem. The tests most commonly used to diagnose thoracic stenosis include:

  • X-rays – Used to determine the presence of bone spurs and spinal instability.
  • MRI : Helps to visualize the nerves that are compressed due to thoracic spinal stenosis.
  • EMG : ordered when neurological damage is suspected to see irritation or damage to the nerves.


Like all cases of spinal stenosis or foraminal stenosis, your doctor may recommend several conservative treatments to relieve pain from thoracic stenosis. These treatments can range from rest, massage, and physical therapy to exercise, medications, and injections.

For many patients, pain medication and steroid injections offer the most effective pain relief. However, some cases of thoracic stenosis require spinal surgery. There are safer and more effective surgical options than traditional open back surgery.

Minimally invasive spine surgery can treat the cause of thoracic stenosis by removing the damaged portion of the spine that is narrowing the spinal canal and compressing a nerve root.

Once the exams and CT scan are reviewed, a minimally invasive spine procedure is recommended.

The procedures are performed with minimally invasive techniques, allowing patients to experience a shorter recovery time and a lower risk of postoperative complications than patients who choose traditional open back surgery.

Thoracic spinal stenosis occurs when the spine in the middle of the back has narrowed. It is a degenerative spinal condition that affects any of the 12 thoracic vertebrae (T1 – T12).

Thoracic spinal stenosis is less common than cervical spinal stenosis and lumbar spinal stenosis and can still cause pain and movement problems.

Treatment for thoracic spinal stenosis will depend on the severity of the condition. It can be as simple as resting and doing some physical rehabilitation. Or, in more severe cases, surgery might be the only option.


In less severe cases, you may only need a simple break. Being on your feet and stuck in bed can relieve some of the compression on your spine. Once your spine heals, you should be back on your feet.

Posterior back

You may find that sitting in certain positions relieves pain and tension from thoracic spinal stenosis. Unfortunately, that is difficult to maintain all the time.

For this type of severity, a posterior brace can be worn to help position the spine in the correct place and relieve symptoms.

Your doctor will monitor your condition if you are wearing a back brace, as it can promote atrophy in other muscles in your back that you do not use as a result of wearing the brace.

Chiropractic treatment

The chiropractor may use a technique called Cox Technic flexion-distraction and decompression. This technique can manipulate your spine to widen the duct space, reduce intradiscal pressure, and increase the height of the disc within the spine that is causing pain and other symptoms.


Surgery is generally recommended if other options have failed or if the stenosis is severe enough to warrant it. Thoracic spinal stenosis surgery involves relieving pressure on the spinal cord.

It may require repair or removal of the cause of the pressure, as in the case of a bone spur or a herniated disc. These surgeries are generally used as a last resort, as there are serious complications associated with them.

Prevention and personal care

Thoracic spinal stenosis cannot be prevented. However, certain lifestyle changes and good daily habits can help maintain a healthy spine and avoid these types of conditions. Some prevention and self-care recommendations include:

Thoracic spinal stenosis isn’t that scary, every time we hear about spinal damage or disease, our minds instantly flash to someone in a wheelchair.

Some of the symptoms of thoracic spinal stenosis can include tingling and numbness, and it can sound scary when first diagnosed. Fortunately, there is treatment, and if you follow your doctor’s instructions, you will be improving immediately.

The recommendations are:

  • The use of specialized braces for stenosis.
  • Practice yoga, swimming, and stretching exercises.
  • Give up smoking.
  • Keep a healthy weight.