The thoracic vertebrae, of which there are 12, make up the middle region of the spine. They span the space between the base of the neck and the bottom of the rib cage.
Located in between the cervical spine (neck) and the lumbar spine (lower back), the thoracic vertebrae are labeled T1 to T12. The thoracic vertebrae attach directly to the rib cage.
Larger than vertebrae in the neck, thoracic vertebrae increase in size as they go down the back because they are required to support more and more weight the farther down the body they’re located. The thoracic vertebrae also have extremely prominent spinous processes, which are the large, bony knobs that protrude from the vertebral body. These processes are important for muscles and ligaments to attach to the spine. If you bend over and run your hand directly down the spine, you will be able to feel the spinous processes.
The thoracic vertebrae, and thoracic region, are unique in the following ways:
- They attach directly to the rib cage
- This region is less likely to sustain injury because it has the increased protection and stability of the rib cage
- They play a large role in helping the rib cage to support the body’s organs
- The thoracic spinal nerves help control the stomach, liver, lungs, and heart