What is Thoracic Stenosis?
Thoracic vertebrae are attached to the ribs and separated by spinal discs. They play a vital protective role of the lungs & heart, as well as being responsible for most dynamic spinal movement.
Thoracic stenosis is where the space within the spinal canal is reduced in your upper/mid-back. The reduced space can irritate or compress the spinal cord or exiting nerves. Symptoms can vary from none at all to pins and needles, numbness, pain or weakness in the upper and lower body – the limited flexibility of the thoracic spine makes pain relief difficult. The area affected also depends on the level of the stenosis in your back.
What are the causes?
Some people are born with narrow spinal canals, while for others something needs to happen to narrow the space. Co-morbid or differential diagnoses of arthritis, osteoarthritis, fractured vertebrae, and cervical or lumbar spondylolisthesis may also be contributing factors.
Other causes may be:
- Over Growth of Bone – Wear and tear can put pressure on the vertebrae causing them to grow more bone and sometimes forming spurs, also known as osteophytes. These osteophytes can develop in the spinal canal reducing the space.
- Herniated Disc – As we age, the soft tissue between the vertebrae dry out. They in turn can crack causing the soft inner material to escape (herniate) and press on the spinal cord.
- Thickened Ligaments – The tough cords that help hold the bones of your spine together can become stiff and thickened over time. These thickened ligaments can bulge into the spinal canal.
- Tumours – Abnormal growths can form inside the spinal canal. These are uncommon and are detected via MRI or CT Scans.
- Spinal Injuries – Trauma or car accidents can cause fractures, dislocations or swelling of the spine, which may lead to pressure on the spinal cord.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of thoracic stenosis are similar to and can mimic lumbar stenosis.
- Neck pain and/or stiffness
- Numbness in arms/shoulders/hands (complete or just a decreased sensation)
- Sudden pain – shooting, severe, burning and/or aching that may radiate down limbs (similar to sciatic pain)
- Tingling (similar to pins and needles sensations)
- Muscle/limb weakness/aches
- Muscle spasm, tightness or cramping
- Loss of or abnormal reflexes
- Inability to stand up straight or maintain balance
- Reduced range of movement, especially rotation
- In severe cases, bowel or bladder dysfunction (urinary urgency and incontinence)
Treatment for Spinal Stenosis
It is common for people with Thoracic Stenosis to reduce exercise to help with pain, however this is counter productive as you also lose strength and increase pain in the long run. Physiotherapy is an effective way to reduce pain and improve mobility with thoracic stenosis. Timely diagnosis and treatment can be vital to improve your long term out look on life.
At Vitalis Physiotherapy, treatment is aimed at stabilising the spinal column, addressing the underlying cause of stenosis and using exercise to unload the spine. This is done through:
- Soft tissue mobilisations (massage)
- Joint mobilisation
- Heat therapy
- A tailored home exercise program
- Graded Exposure to load program
Anti-inflammatory and/or analgesic medication, rest and heat packs may help some of the symptoms.
Rarely, untreated severe spinal stenosis may progress and cause permanent:
- Balance problems
How to book an appointment?
If you think that you may be suffering from thoracic stenosis, our physios at Vitalis Physiotherapy can assess and diagnose the condition. They may also refer you to get scans in some severe cases to better understand your needs. They will then tailor your treatment plan to aid in your pain relief and recovery.
All you need to do is just give us a call on 0410 559 856 and request an initial appointment. Please let our friendly reception staff know the background and severity of your condition.
You can visit our FAQs for more information about appointments at Vitalis Physiotherapy.