Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries

Thoracic Spinal ColumnThe thoracic spine is located in the upper and middle part of the back. Twelve vertebrae are located in the thoracic spine, and are numbered T-1 to T-12. Each number corresponds with the nerves in that section of the spinal cord:

  • T-1 through T-5 nerves affect muscles, upper chest, mid-back and abdominal muscles. These nerves and muscles help control the rib cage, lungs, diaphragm and muscles that help you breathe.
  • T-6 through T-12 nerves affect abdominal and back muscles. These nerves and muscles are important for balance and posture, and they help you cough or expel foreign matter from your airway.

The thoracic spine is built for stability and helps keep the body upright. It connects the cervical spine, which is located in the neck, and the lumbar spine, which is located in the lower back.

General Effects of Injury to Thoracic Nerves – T-1 to T-5

  • Injuries usually affect the abdominal and lower back muscles and the legs, typically resulting in paraplegia.
  • Arm and hand function is usually normal.

General Effects of Injury to Thoracic Nerves – T-6 to T-12

  • Injury usually results in paraplegia.
  • Little or no voluntary control of bowel or bladder, but can manage on their own with special equipment.

Thoracic Nerve Section Area of Body Affected
T-1 Hands and fingers
T-2 – T-5 Chest muscles
T-6 – T-8 Chest and abdominal muscles
T-9 – T-12 Abdominal muscles

Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury Prognosis and Recovery

Prognosis and recovery from a thoracic spinal cord injury may differ from patient to patient. The difference is due to the type of injury and the level of severity.

A patient’s health is also a factor in determining the level of independence achieved after an injury. This includes body type, existing medical conditions and other injuries that may have occurred at the time of the spinal cord injury.

Patients with a thoracic spinal cord injury may be able to do the following:

  • Have normal arm, hand and upper-body movement
  • Use a manual wheelchair
  • Learn to drive a modified car
  • Stand in a standing frame or walk with braces

Understanding Spinal Cord Injury – Levels of Injury Explained

Learn more about the thoracic spine and the levels of injury from Judy Fortin, former CNN anchor and medical correspondent.