Thoracic Spine Anatomy

Thoracic spine is the central part of the spine which runs from the base of the neck to the bottom of your rib cage. The thoracic spine provides flexibility that holds the body upright and protects the organs of the chest.

The thoracic region of the spine is made up of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12). The vertebrae are aligned on top of one another to form the spinal column which gives posture to our body. Each vertebra consists of a vertebral body. A protective bony ring attaches to each vertebral body and surrounds the spinal cord and forms the spinal canal. The bony ring consists of the back part of the vertebral body, the lamina which is the outer rim of the bony ring, and 2 pedicles which attach the vertebral body to the lamina. When the vertebrae are all stacked together as in the normal spine, the bony ring forms a hollow tube which surrounds and protects the spinal cord. When looking from the front the normal alignment of the spine should be straight. When looking from the side, the normal alignment of the thoracic spine is curved gently forward, called kyphosis.

The spinous process forms a steeple at the apex of the laminae, and is the part of our spine that is felt directly under the skin. The transverse processes spread out like wings and attach to the pedicles and the lamina. The ribs attach to the vertebral bodies in the thoracic spine through the costovertebral joints.

Between each vertebra, there are small bony knobs at the back of the spine that connect the two vertebras together, called ‘facet joints’. Between each pair of vertebra, two facet joints are present, one on either side of the spine. The alignment of the two facet joins allows the back and forth movement of the spine. The facet joints are covered in ‘articular cartilage’, which allows smooth movement between the bones.

On the left and right side of the vertebra, is a small tunnel called ‘neural foramen’. The two nerves that leave each vertebra pass through this neural foramen. These spinal nerves group together to form a main nerve that passes to the organs and limbs. These nerves control the muscles and organs of the chest and abdomen. An ‘intervertebral disc’ is present in front of this opening which is made up of connective tissue. The discs of thoracic region are smaller compared to cervical and lumbar spine.