Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi
Your thoracic spine is located in the middle of your back and consists of 12 vertebrae. It’s also home to 12 nerve roots (T1-T12) on each side of your spine that run from the spinal cord and control functions and sensory signals in your abdomen, chest and upper back. If any of these large nerve roots become compressed, irritated or damaged, pain and functional issues can develop. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at the causes and treatment options for thoracic spinal nerve damage.
Causes and Symptoms of Thoracic Spinal Nerve Damage
Each one of your spinal nerves controls different functions and sensations, so the symptoms you experience can vary based on the exact level of damage. Before we touch on the symptoms, let’s explain where each one of these nerves traverses:
- T1 and T2 – These lead into nerves that go into the top of your chest and into the arms and hands.
- T3, T4 and T5 – These lead into the chest wall and help regulate breathing.
- T6, T7 and T8 – These lead into your chest and abdomen.
- T9, T10, T11 and T12 – These lead into your abdomen and your lower back.
Compression or irritation of these nerves is classified as thoracic radiculopathy, and it can lead to a number of symptoms based on the extent and location of the impingement. Common symptoms include localized pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness, arm or leg weakness and even difficulty walking or breathing.
There are a couple of different causes of nerve irritation or inflammation, so a spine specialist needs to determine the underlying cause so that the correct treatment methods can be pursued. Two of the most common causes of thoracic radiculopathy are from compression caused by a herniated disc or from a narrowing of the spinal foramen, an opening through which these nerves pass. With that said, it’s also important to note that a severe intercostal muscle sprain can also lead to nerve compression or damage.
Diagnosing and Treating Thoracic Radiculopathy
As we alluded to above, the true source of your discomfort can stem from a few different causes, which is why it’s so important to visit a spine specialist if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we listed above. After talking about your symptoms and reviewing your medical history, your doctor will have you perform some physical manipulation tests to see what causes symptoms to flare up or relieve. Finally, they’ll likely order some imaging tests. An X-ray, MRI, CT scan or EMG can all help to isolate the location of the nerve compression.
Once the source of irritation has been identified, your spine specialist will begin to develop an individualized treatment plan. If your radiculopathy is being caused by foramen narrowing or a herniated disc, treatment will likely involve a combination of rest, anti-inflammatory medications and targeted physical therapy exercises. Coupled with longer-term changes like dietary improvements to lose weight and posture mindfulness to avoid extended pressure on certain areas of your spine, many people experience fantastic results with conservative care options.
In rare instances, surgery may be needed to shift the disc back into place or widen the foramen, but your spine specialist can walk you through these options should they become necessary. These too tend to provide great long-term relief.
So if you are dealing with mid-back pain or are dealing with any of the symptoms we listed above, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi and his talented team to put an end to your thoracic spinal pain today.