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Sit up straight – construction of the thoracic spine

Written by Theresia Lechner
Aufbau der Brustwirbelsäule mit Rippen und Becken gezeichnet

The middle part of your spine doesn’t just consist of quite a lot of vertebrae, but also has other special components. In this article you will learn more about the construction of the thoracic spine. With this new knowledge, you will be laying an important foundation for a good working atmosphere between you and your back.

Twelve good vertebrae and true

Your thoracic spine (i.e. T spine) consists of 12 vertebrae in total. By the way, doctors and therapists count these from top to bottom, as well. That is why you will find the affected vertebra written as a Th (Thoracic) with the corresponding number (Th1, Th2, Th3 etc.) on a prescription or discharge summary, for example. As with your lumbar spine, a vertebra consists of:

  • A vertebral body (1*)
  • A spinous process (2*)
  • Two transverse processes (3*)
  • A vertebral arch (4*)

Unlike with your lumbar spine, here each vertebral body and almost all of the transverse processes also have two docking sites for your ribs. So in this area, your ribs are directly and very tightly connected with your spine and, together with your sternum at the front, form a sort of cage. This rib cage protects your internal organs, such as your lungs and your heart [1].

Aufbau der Brustwirbelsäule mit Brustkorb von der Seite betrachtet und gezeichnet
Construction of thoracic spine with rib cage (viewed from the side)

If you feel pain in the middle area of your spine, it is very important to be clear in distinguishing whether it is actually a problem with your spine. For often it is also the connections between your ribs and the spine that are the actual problem [2].

At the level of your spinous processes, between two vertebrae, there are also small joints both left and right. It is thanks to these 11 joints in total that you can bend forwards and backwards, lean to the side and turn yourself to the left and right [1].

Round back or normal curvature?

In contrast to your lower back, your thoracic spine naturally arches outwards. That means that a fine and balanced rounded back is completely normal and is due to the dynamic double S-shape in your spine [1]. Despite this curvature, you can and should still use your muscles to stand up straight from time to time. Your intervertebral discs will also be happy about this by the way, as they – similar to in the lumbar spine – are located between the 12 vertebral bodies and diligently absorb any impact.

Your thoracic spine – a secure home for your spinal cord

In addition to your intervertebral discs, your spinal cord is also packed securely into your spine. Between each vertebral body and each spinous process of the thoracic spine, there is a hole or an arch that forms a protected place for your spinal cord. When doctors talk about the entirety of these holes, they call it the spinal canal (5*)[1].

Schematischer Aufbau eines Halswirbels mit Beschriftung der Bestandteile
Schematic construction of a vertebra with a vertebral body (1*), a spinous process (2*), two transverse processes (3*), a vertebral arch (4*) and the spinal canal (5*)

So please be aware that your spine and its components don’t simply slide around in the body. On the contrary, they are firmly connected and conjoined with other structures:

  • Muscles
  • Fasciae
  • Ligaments

As a result, all of the components together form a very strong and simultaneously hugely flexible basic structure [1].

What you have learnt about the construction of the thoracic spine in this article

As you now know, your thoracic spine is not rigid, but an extremely agile and simultaneously strong structure. It is also very tightly connected to your ribs. That is why rib inspections should always form part of a thorough examination of the thoracic spine.

Back up your knowledge

Slipped discs in your thoracic spine area are very uncommon. In a city with a population of one million, such as Cologne, only one person per year will have a slipped disc injury [3].

Important to note:
This article contains general recommendations only and must not be used for self-diagnosing or self-treatment. It is not a replacement for visiting your GP.