Thoracic Myelopathy

Diseases affecting the thoracic spinal cord

Your Path

  • Thoracic myelopathy


  • Trauma
  • Compression from: spinal stenosis from OA/degenerative disease, disc herniation, ligamentous hypertrophy, vertebral subluxation, tumor (metastatic), congenital narrowing, infection (epidural abscess), or contributions from multiple processes
  • Inflammation from idiopathic/autoimmune processes (e.g. transverse myelitis)
  • Nutritional deficiencies, in particular: B12 and copper
  • Vascular malformations (e.g. AVMs within the dura or cord)
  • Primary tumors of the spinal cord (unusual)
  • Vascular insufficiency affecting the cord (e.g. interruption of artery of Adamkiewicz post AAA repair, embolic phenomenon)
  • Syringomyelia: fluid filled cavity occurring within the cord
  • Unusual infections: HIV, HTLV 1

Risk Factors

  • Degenerative compression occurs most commonly in older patients; can also occur related to trauma, disc disruption, RA, other
  • For nutrition related: sometimes idiopathic, poor diets, or post gastric surgery
  • HIV RFs for HIV related; Caribbean, Central/South America, Japan for HTLV1


  • Mid-back pain
  • Gait problems/imbalance
  • Weakness & numbness of lower extremities, typically bilateral
  • Urinary and/or bowel incontinence occur late
  • Spinothalamics travel up contralateral side of cord from the region innervated; Dorsal columns travel up ipsilateral side

Physical Exam Findings

  • Symmetric spasticity, hyperreflexia, babinski, impaired sensation (Spinothalamics: pain and temperature; Dorsal columns: roprioception, vibration, pressure)
  • May be able to detect sensory level at site of involvement (e.g. numbness below umbilicus w/T-10 level lesion
  • Gait disturbance: instability, leg stiffness, wide based
  • Decreased rectal tone, elevated post-void residual w/advanced disease