The twelve thoracic nerves [T1-T12] emerge below T1 and T12, respectively.
The roots of the thoracic nerves, with the exception of the first, are of small size, and the posterior only slightly exceed the anterior in thickness. They increase successively in length, from above downward, and in the lower part of the thoracic region descend in contact with the medulla spinalis for a distance equal to the height of at least two vertebræ before they emerge from the vertebral canal.
The anterior rami (anterior divisions) of the thoracic nerves (rami anteriores; ventral divisions) are twelve in number on either side :
- Eleven of them are situated between the ribs, and are therefore termed intercostal; the twelfth lies below the last rib. Each nerve is connected with the adjoining ganglion of the sympathetic trunk by a gray and a white ramus communicans.
- The intercostal nerves are distributed chiefly to the parietes of the thorax and abdomen, and differ from the anterior divisions of the other spinal nerves, in that each pursues an independent course, i. e., there is no plexus formation.
- The first two nerves supply fibers to the upper limb in addition to their thoracic branches; the next four are limited in their distribution to the parietes of the thorax; the lower five supply the parietes of the thorax and abdomen.
- The twelfth thoracic is distributed to the abdominal wall and the skin of the buttock.
The posterior rami (posterior division) ot the thoracic nerves are twelve :
- The medial branches (ramus medialis; internal branch) of the posterior divisions of the upper six thoracic nerves run between the Semispinalis dorsi and Multifidus, which they supply; they then pierce the Rhomboidei and Trapezius, and reach the skin by the sides of the spinous processes. The medial branches of the lower six are distributed chiefly to the Multifidus and Longissimus dorsi, occasionally they give off filaments to the skin near the middle line.
- The lateral branches (ramus lateralis; external branch) increase in size from above downward. They run through or beneath the Longissimus dorsi to the interval between it and the Iliocostales, and supply these muscles; the lower five or six also give off cutaneous branches which pierce the Serratus posterior inferior and Latissimus dorsi in a line with the angles of the ribs. The lateral branches of a variable number of the upper thoracic nerves also give filaments to the skin. The lateral branch of the twelfth thoracic, after sending a filament medialward along the iliac crest, passes downward to the skin of the buttock.
The posterior cutaneous branches (medial cutaneous branches) of the posterior divisions of the thoracic nerves descend for some distance close to the spinous processes before reaching the skin, while the lateral branches travel downward for a considerable distance—it may be as much as the breadth of four ribs—before they become superficial; the branch from the twelfth thoracic, for instance, reaches the skin only a little way above the iliac crest.
This definition incorporates text from a public domain edition of Gray's Anatomy (20th U.S. edition of Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, published in 1918 – from http://www.bartleby.com/107/).