The thoracic vertebrae make up the mid-back portion of the spinal column. They protect the spinal cord in this area. Traumatic accidents, violent acts, and birth defects can damage the vertebra and injure the spinal cord. If the spinal cord sustains damage in this area, the patient could face paralysis from the chest or mid-torso down. This could impair the ability to walk, bowel and bladder control, and more.
Understanding Thoracic Vertebrae Injuries
There are 12 thoracic vertebrae, commonly known as T1 through T12. The thoracic vertebrae are between the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). T1 is at the top of this section and is roughly even with your top rib.
Unlike other areas of the spinal column, the 12 thoracic vertebrae connect to the rib cage. Like the rest of the spinal column, the spinal cord runs through these vertebrae and allows for nerve communication with the rest of the body.
- T1 injuries could affect the hands
- T2 – T5 injuries could affect the chest
- T6 – T8 injuries could affect the chest and abdominal region
- T9 – T12 injuries could affect the abdominal region
The specific effects of an injury may not be the same for every patient. Any patient with a thoracic vertebra injury should consult their doctor about how their injury could affect them.
Common Causes of Thoracic Vertebrae Injuries
It often takes incredible force to injure the thoracic part of the spine. Even when a vertebra suffers a fracture, the injury may not affect the spinal cord.
Some causes of thoracic vertebrae and spinal cord injuries include:
- Car accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Car versus pedestrian or bicyclist accidents
- Diving accidents
- Falls from a height
- Violent acts
- Birth defects
Effects of Thoracic Vertebrae Injuries With Spinal Cord Involvement
Not all thoracic vertebrae injuries affect the spinal cord, and many are incomplete injuries when they do. This makes it more difficult to predict how they may affect the patient and what their recovery may look like.
Some of the most common effects of injuries to the thoracic vertebrae with spinal cord involvement include:
- Lack of sensation and movement below the level of the injury
- Paraplegia or motor difficulties in the lower body
- Difficulty with fine motor skills and dexterity in the wrists, hands, and fingers
- Reduced or absent control of the torso and abdominal muscles
- Loss of functionality or control of the bowels and bladder
Treatment and Rehabilitation After a Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury
Treatment for thoracic vertebrae injuries and related spinal cord injuries vary depending on the involvement of the spinal cord and the completeness of the spinal cord injury. In general, doctors hope to stabilize the spine, build muscle mass in the upper body, restore movement, and help patients adapt to impairments.
Some treatments for patients with thoracic vertebrae injuries include:
Doctors will often give anti-inflammatory medications to spinal cord injury patients. This may reduce swelling and prevent further damage to the spinal cord. By preventing inflammation, the patient may be able to retain more motor and sensory function.
Diagnosis and Stabilization
Patients with thoracic vertebrae injuries will undergo neurologic exams and medical imaging to determine the level of injury and the degree of damage to the spinal cord. Imaging tests may include:
- Computed Tomography (CT) scans
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
These tests help doctors determine the best course of action. These injuries may require decompression surgery and often require stabilization. If the doctor is not confident they can stabilize the patient’s spine with a brace or other noninvasive techniques, fusion surgery may be necessary.
Inpatient Rehabilitation and Outpatient Therapy
If the thoracic injury had spinal cord involvement, the doctor will likely recommend both inpatient rehabilitation and outpatient physical therapy. Both physical and occupational therapies can help recover mobility and other functions following a spinal cord injury.
Inpatient rehabilitation is an intense program working closely with a team of spinal cord injury specialists to rebuild strength and independence. Once patients complete inpatient rehabilitation, they can continue physical therapy on an outpatient basis.
Pursuing Compensation After a Thoracic Vertebrae Injury
If you suffered a thoracic vertebrae injury in an accident or as a result of medical malpractice, you may be able to help you hold the at-fault party liable. You have the legal right to pursue compensation for your medical care, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, diminished earning capacity, pain and suffering, and more.