Spinal Cord Injury patient Jared iwth Dr. Tonuzi

Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury

The thoracic spine is the middle – and longest – section of the spine, stretching from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage. A thoracic spine injury can rupture ligaments, tear the spinal cord, damage intervertebral discs, and dislocate vertebral bones. Depending on the intensity of force, thoracic spine injury can be complete or incomplete.

Regardless of the category, these injuries can cause severe back pain, loss of bowel control, exaggerated reflexes, inability to move, and other debilitating issues that need specialized medication and rehabilitation.

Brooks Rehabilitation has evaluated the two categories of thoracic spine injury (incomplete thoracic and complete thoracic), their symptoms, and treatment options to help spinal injury survivors make better care decisions.

Incomplete Thoracic Spine Injury

An incomplete thoracic spine injury partially disrupts the spinal cord’s ability to transmit signals to the level below the injury. Patients with this type of spine injury can lead a more independent life with fewer limitations.

Incomplete Thoracic Spine Injury Symptoms

Causes of Incomplete Thoracic Spine Injury

Incomplete thoracic spine injury can result from a moderate impact or blow on the thoracic spine. The blow can either fracture, dislocate, or compress one or more vertebrae making the thoracic spine. Some of the top causes of incomplete thoracic spine injury include:

  • Vehicle accidents
  • Contact sports
  • Violence
  • Degenerative medical conditions
  • Medical errors
  • Falls

Incomplete Thoracic Spine Injury Risk Factors


Men have a high risk of suffering incomplete thoracic spine injuries, as compared to women. The high risk is because many men get involved in violence, contact sports, reckless driving, motorcycle use, and other risky activities.

Advanced age

Senior citizens above the age of 65 have an increased risk of suffering incomplete thoracic spine injury because their risk of falling is higher than that of younger people. With their fragile spine, even low-impact falls can cause serious injuries.

Involvement in Risky Activities

Risky activities like lifting heavy objects exert excessive pressure on the spine, increasing one’s risk of suffering incomplete spinal injuries like spinal cord tearing or bone dislocation.

Substance Use

Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, and other substances increase one’s likelihood to engage in violence, motor vehicle accidents, and other risky activities that lead to spine injury.

Degenerative Conditions

Degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis weaken the spinal cord, making it easier to suffer an incomplete thoracic spinal cord injury in case of a fall or auto accident.

Complete Thoracic Spine Injury

A complete thoracic spinal cord injury totally impairs the spinal cord’s ability to send motor and sensory impulses to the area below the injury. Survivors could lose several functions like bladder control and the ability to walk.

Complete Thoracic Spine Injury Symptoms

  • Lost bowel and bladder control
  • Severe back pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Heart and lung problems

Causes of Complete Thoracic Spine Injury

Complete thoracic spine injury results from catastrophic trauma fracturing the vertebrae or severely tearing the spinal cord and nerves. Some of the common causes of complete thoracic spine injury include:

  • Serious motor accidents
  • Gunshots
  • Surgical errors
  • Trampoline accidents
  • Falls from heights
  • Chronic diseases

Complete Spinal Cord Injury Risk Factors


Youths between the ages of 16- and 30-years-old have an increased risk of suffering a complete spinal injury since they are commonly involved in risky activities such as contact sports, diving, and dangerous driving.

Cancer or Osteoarthritis

People with degenerative conditions affecting the bones and joints are likely to experience complete thoracic spinal cord injury in the event of minor impact. The degenerative medical conditions weaken the spine.

Full Contact Sports

Contact sports such as rugby, hurling, wrestling, judo, karate, cheerleading, and BMX increases one’s risk of complete spine injuries dramatically. These sports can lead to high-impact falls, causing severe ligament rupture, spinal cord tearing, nerve compression, and bone dislocation.

Dangerous or Drunk Driving

Dangerous or drunk driving leads to fatal accidents that leave patients with serious injuries, including complete thoracic spinal cord injury. The majority of patients with thoracic spinal injuries are victims of auto accidents.

Thoracic Spine Injury Prognosis and Treatment


Even patients with a complete injury on the T1, the highest level of the thoracic spine, can properly coordinate their hands, chest, and upper back. Therefore, with proper therapy and assistive equipment, survivors can lead a near normal life.

For instance, patients with lost mobility can use modified cars, manual wheelchairs, or standing frames to move around comfortably. Some people can even regain their ability to walk after a series of medical and rehabilitative interventions.


Spinal Traction

Spinal traction eliminates pressure on discs. In this procedure, a physical therapist uses manual force or specialized equipment to stretch the spine, relieving excessive pressure. It works effectively for patients with pinched nerves and slipped discs.

Stem Cell Therapy

In this therapy, doctors inject stem cells to improve bone formation, strengthen spinal disc tissue, and regenerate damaged nerves. Upon successful treatment, the patient experiences reduced back pain and improved mobility.

Spine Surgery

Spine surgery is an emergency procedure to realign bones with metals and screws, remove fluid, replace fractured vertebrae, remove foreign bodies lodged in the injury site, and eliminate severed bones.


Rehabilitation uses the power of physical therapy, balance training, spasticity programs, and other therapeutic interventions to help musculoskeletal muscles, the brain, and the spinal cord work together at their best capacity. Treatment interventions reduce muscle atrophy, promote neuroplasticity, and hasten recovery.

Some of the common rehabilitative interventions used at Brooks Rehabilitation include:

  • Physical therapy: In this therapy, clinicians use a range of exercises to optimize range of motion. Physiotherapists also use other interventions like electrical stimulation and heat therapy to strengthen a patient’s mobility.
  • Balance training: Balance training involves exercises that strengthen the core, legs, and other muscles responsible for balance. This training improves a patient’s stability while reducing the risk of falls.
  • Wheelchair clinic: In Brooks Rehabilitation’s wheelchair clinic, clinicians assist patients in learning everything regarding wheelchair use. The experts help patients find a suitable wheelchair, choose seats with optimum pressure distribution, and identify specialty devices that simplify wheelchair use.
  • Spasticity program: A spasticity program is a multidisciplinary approach using exercise, medication, and surgical treatment to improve muscle tone, reduce pain, and increase the mobility of patients with spinal cord injury.

Get Rehabilitation Services for Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury at Brooks Rehabilitation

Brooks Rehabilitation is one of the best rehabilitation facilities serving Florida. We collaborate with a qualified team of physical therapists, nurses, and physicians to give high-quality services customized for each patient.

We use the latest technology to offer physical therapy, spasticity training, balance training, wheelchair clinic, and other treatments that help survivors of spinal cord injury attain their highest level of function.

Visit our locations in Florida to learn how we could help you or a loved one recover from a thoracic spinal cord injury.

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