After a long series of tests and doctor visits, they've finally figured out what's causing numbness and tingling in my legs. And I walk funny now, too. It's called thoracic myelopathy. I've been told I should have surgery to correct this right away. Can I just wait and see if I'll get better?

Myelopathy of the thoracic spine is rare but can be disabling. This condition is more likely to affect the lumbar spine (low back). Sometimes the neck is affected.

Myelopathy is any condition that can damage or affect the spinal cord. The most likely causes of myelopathy are usually a protruding or herniated disc, bone spurs, or ossification of the spinal ligaments. Ossification refers to hardening of the ligaments as tiny bits of bone form within it. All of these causes are related to the aging process.

Studies show that surgery is needed to treat this problem. The surgeon removes bone from around the involved spinal cord or spinal nerves. The goal is to take the pressure off the nerve tissue and alleviate the symptoms.

Patients who have milder symptoms for less time seem to have a better result after surgery. This suggests that surgery should be done earlier than later. Many times the diagnosis is delayed allowing the condition to progress before the operation can be done.

A wait-and-see approach is not advised for this problem but you should ask your surgeon this question. There may be other reasons why you should have this operation right away.

Reference: 

Toshimi Aizawa, MD, PhD, et al. Results of Surgical Treatment for Thoracic Myelopathy: Minimum 2-Year Follow-up Study in 132 Patients. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. July 2007. Vol. 7. No. 1. Pp. 13-20.

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