A sideways curve in the part of your spine that makes up your upper and middle back is thoracic scoliosis. It’s common in children and adolescents and managed conservatively or corrected with surgery.
You may know that your spine has several natural curves when viewed from the side. But when viewed from behind, the spine appears straight.
Some people also have a sideways curve of the spine. This is called scoliosis and can cause the spine to appear curved when viewed from behind. It affects 2–3% of the population of the United States.
Thoracic scoliosis is when a sideways curve affects your thoracic spine, or the upper and middle part of your back. Keep reading to discover more about thoracic scoliosis, what causes it, and its treatment.
The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebrae. Thoracic scoliosis most commonly affects the area around the
In most instances of thoracic scoliosis, the spine curves to the right. Left curvatures can happen but are rare overall.
If a curve in your thoracic spine is greater than 10 degrees, you can receive a diagnosis of thoracic scoliosis. Curves that are more than 45–50 degrees are severe.
Anyone can develop thoracic scoliosis. However, scoliosis generally begins when you’re between 10 and 15 years old.
The sideways curvature of the spine present in thoracic scoliosis can cause the following symptoms:
- a visible curve that affects the upper or middle back
- uneven shoulder height
- one shoulder blade that sticks out more than the other
- ribs that are more prominent on one side
- waist asymmetry
If the spinal curve is more severe or progresses, it can lead to:
It appears that genetics plays a role. About
Other causes of thoracic scoliosis are:
- Congenital scoliosis: Congenital scoliosis is present from birth. It happens when parts of the spine don’t form properly during development in the womb.
- Neuromuscular scoliosis: Neuromuscular scoliosis happens when a condition affecting the nerves or muscles causes scoliosis. Examples of such conditions include:
Many people with thoracic scoliosis don’t experience pain, especially if the spinal curvature is mild. But if the curve of your scoliosis is severe or has progressed, you may begin to experience pain or discomfort.
You may feel thoracic scoliosis pain in your back and shoulders. Also, a curvature may lead to pain or discomfort in your chest and rib cage because the rib cage is attached to your thoracic spine.
Pain from scoliosis can happen due to many causes. Below are some examples of how thoracic scoliosis may cause pain:
- Effects of scoliosis can change your posture, placing a strain on your joints and muscles.
- Pressure from scoliosis may irritate or compress nearby nerves, leading to shooting pains or tingling sensations.
- Preexisting conditions, such as arthritis or degenerative disk disease, together with scoliosis can increase pain, particularly in adults.
Yes. Thoracic scoliosis can be corrected with surgery, if necessary. Healthcare professionals may recommend surgery if scoliosis is severe or worsens. This is typically when curvature:
greater than 40 degreesin children and adolescents
- is greater than 50 degrees in adults and associated with reduced quality of life or additional symptoms such as pain and nerve damage
The surgical treatment of thoracic scoliosis typically involves a spinal fusion, which can help straighten the spinal curvature.
During a spinal fusion, the surgeon will realign the bones of your spine. They’ll place small pieces of bone, called a bone graft, in the spaces between the affected vertebrae.
The grafts and vertebrae will gradually grow together, fusing your spine. It’s also possible that your surgeon will place metal rods or screws to help stabilize the area until the fusion is complete.
Nonsurgical treatments can also help treat thoracic scoliosis. You may also see these referred to as conservative treatments.
Where the curvature is mild —
If follow-up X-rays show curvature is worsening, your doctor can start treatment.
Bracing involves wearing a brace for most hours of the day. Several types of brace are available and can be made of rigid or dynamic materials. Which one is used will depend on your individual needs.
While bracing won’t correct existing thoracic scoliosis, it can help prevent it from progressing to a point where you might need surgery.
Other nonsurgical treatments
Pain is a concern for some younger people and many adults with thoracic scoliosis.
You may treat pain due to thoracic scoliosis with over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Nerve block injections may provide relief for some adults with severe scoliosis pain.
Exercise can also help strengthen muscles and joints and aid in managing your weight. This can help reduce or prevent pain in some people with scoliosis. Engaging with a physical therapist may also be beneficial.
Thoracic scoliosis happens when scoliosis affects the part of your spine that comprises your upper and middle back. Like many types of scoliosis, it most often develops in children and adolescents, although it can occur in adults as well.
You can correct severe thoracic scoliosis with surgery. Still, in many cases, conservative treatment methods are an option. If you have thoracic scoliosis, your doctor will recommend a treatment that’s appropriate for your individual situation.