Thoracic Spine

What You Need to Know

Thoracic spine and rib cage in 2 views.
The thoracic spine is connected to the ribs in back. Science Picture Co./Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Thoracic Spine Defined

The thoracic spine is the area of the vertebral column commonly referred to as the mid and upper back. The thoracic spine is comprised of 12 spinal bones that are connected to and that occupy the same level in your body as your 12 ribs. In fact, the thoracic spine works with the ribs to create a protected space - your rib cage - for lungs, heart and other organs.

 (The first 10 ribs also connect to the sternum in front to close most of the cage.) 

Thoracic Spinal Curve

Each region of the spine has a curve, and the thoracic spine is no exception. The directions of the spinal curves in each area alternate so that in the neck and low back (called the cervical and lumbar spines, respectively) the curve goes forward when you look at a side view of the body. This type of curve is called a lordosis.  

The curve in the thoracic spine sweeps backward when you view the body from the side.  This is called a kyphosis, or kyphotic curve. A little bit of kyphosis in the thoracic spine is normal, but when it becomes excessive, as it often does in those of us who sit at a computer for most of our days, it can cause pain and poor posture.

Other, more medical causes of excessive kyphosis exist as well, and are generally more serious than postural kyphosis due to sitting at a computer.

Examples include Scheuermann's kyphosis or Scheuermann's Disease, which tends to affect teen boys the most, and kyphosis following a vertebral compression fracture which is found in elderly people and others who sustain this injury.

Referring to the Vertebrae of the Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebrae, each referred to by 'T', with an identifying number appended to it.

The number indicates the level of the thoracic spine in which the particular vertebra is located. The thoracic spine as a whole is often called the "T-Spine" for short.

For example, the first rib attaches to the first thoracic vertebra (i.e. T-1); the 12th (last) rib attaches to the last vertebra of the thoracic spine (i.e., T-12.)

Movements at the Thoracic Spine

The thoracic spine is pretty good at rotating, i.e., twisting, but limited as to how much flexion (bending), extension (arching) and lateral flexion (side bending) it can accommodate.

Thoracic Spine Pain

Although pain in the thoracic spine area is common, it is not as well studied as neck or low back pain. But a review entitled, "Thoracic spine pain in the general population: prevalence, incidence and associated factors in children, adolescents and adults. A systematic review" and published in the June 29, 2009 issue of BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders found that between 15.6% and 19.5% of people will experience T-spine pain sometime in their lives, and that between 3.5% and 34.8% of the population may be affected in a one year period.

The same study listed growth, musculoskeletal pain, lifestyle, use of backpacks, posture, environmental and psycological factors as all being associated with thoracic spine pain.

 And finally, the researchers reported being an older adolescent and having poor mental health may predispose you to T-spine pain.


Briggs AM1, Smith AJ, Straker LM, Bragge P. Thoracic spine pain in the general population: prevalence, incidence and associated factors in children, adolescents and adults. A systematic review. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009 Jun 29;10:77. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-10-77