What is Thoracic Spinal Stenosis – Symptoms

Thoracic spinal stenosis is not as common as cervical stenosis in the neck or lumbar stenosis in the lower back. Thoracic stenosis, which occurs when the middle/upper part of the spinal cord, is caused by degeneration of the vertebrae and spinal disc leading to the narrowing of the passage left for the spinal cord. Some of the common measures used to prevent and treat thoracic stenosis are the use of anti-inflammatory drugs—orally or injected, exercise, chiropractic care, and physical therapy. Patients with intractable thoracic vertebrae are considered for surgery. Read on to find out more on symptoms. thoracic spinal stenosis treatment, and its causes.

Causes of thoracic spinal stenosis

The spine runs from the lower back to the neck. This encapsulates the bones from your backbone which offer mechanical protection to your spinal cord. Cases of people being born with a narrow spinal canal accord for a certain percentage of the causes of thoracic stenosis.

However, most of the cases occur as a result of the change in the spinal cord due to different factors.

Overgrowth of the vertebrae bones can lead to the formation of bone spurs. When osteoarthritis – degeneration of the protective cartilage—takes place, wear and tear are likely to occur and the end result is usually bone spurs, stiffness, pain, or a combination of all these. The bone spurs can grow in any direction. When they grow into the spinal cord, needless to say, the pain when you move can be excruciating. Moreover, this can result in overgrowth of the spine.


With age, the soft fluid that acts as a shock absorber dries. When the discs herniate, cracks in the disc allow passage of the material which presses the nerves and spinal cord. If the fluid escapes in the thoracic part of the spinal cord then spinal stenosis will occur.

Other common causes of thoracic stenosis include stiffening of the ligaments that hold the vertebrae together, tumors from within the spinal cord; abnormal from inside the spine and spinal injuries such as car accidents or swelling of peripheral tissues after back surgery.

Thoracic Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

Most people with thoracic spinal stenosis develop the symptoms long after the condition has been evidenced by a CT or MRI scan. When the symptoms start developing, they gradually worsen with time. Pain and standing discomfort are some of the common symptoms of vertebral compression. The compression makes the lower back, neck, and spine weaker. Although 80% of adults have experienced lower back at some point in their life, thoracic discomfort when standing is far above the normal standing discomfort.

Stenosis When the nerve root in the thoracic spine becomes irritated, symptoms can appear on the hand or the shoulder. Pain accompanied by unease even when resting is common. Patients are known to experience numbness below the point of involvement. In some rare cases, the patient complains of pain below the knee and weakness on the thigh and buttocks.


Treatment options for thoracic stenosis are either surgical or non-surgical. Some of the nonsurgical treatments used include medicines to help with inflammation and pain. Such drugs include acetaminophen, anti-inflammatory drugs. Over the counter, anti-inflammatory drugs are only meant for short-term use. Never use over the counter NSAID for more than 10 days without consulting your doctor.

Moderate exercise such as forward-leaning, swimming, walking and aerobic exercise help in relieving the symptoms. Aerobic exercises help in reducing stiffness and increasing the blood flow, therefore, nutrients reach the spine with ease. Low-impact aerobic exercise not only reduce the chances of future flare-ups from occurring, it also helps in removing excess weight hence reducing the pressure imposed on the spine.

Other nonsurgical treatment options are physical therapy helps in improving the muscle function and reconditioning of dormant spine muscles. Epidural steroid injections near the source of the pain or inflammation. The steroid shots are administered according to the extent of the damage.


People with thoracic stenosis may have a change in sensation. This sensation affects the lower back and can be in form of pins and needles piercing into your skin. At some point, the leg muscles can become weak and stiff. In such cases, exercise and therapy can help in improving the condition. Thoracic stenosis can limit your mobility but it doesn’t have to be permanent. 70-90% have had successful results with the treatment methods mentioned above.