The 12 nerve root pairs in the thoracic spine, otherwise known as the T1-T12 nerve roots, refer to the location where nerves diverge off the spinal cord in the middle back prior to exiting the spinal column and branching off into the various nerve endings strewn about the body. Leaving the spinal column through openings between the vertebrae called foramina, the thoracic nerve roots are tasked with facilitating the unfettered flow of information from the brain to the torso and back again with unbelievable speed and clarity.
The spinal cord extends through hollow cavities in the vertebrae, beginning in the brain and culminating just shy of the lumbar spine before separating, or “horse tailing,” in the lower back. In the thoracic spine, thoracic nerve roots branch off the cord and exit the spinal column through foraminal canals in the vertebrae before spreading out throughout the:
- Middle back
- Lower part of the shoulders
- Inner arms and armpits
When everything is running smoothly, the brain, spinal cord and nerve roots are responsible for coordinating all bodily function – both voluntary and involuntary – including muscle control and organ function, as well as providing the sense of touch.
In the event that a nerve root becomes compressed – commonly referred to as a pinched nerve – a number of painful or uncomfortable symptoms can strike a patient. And because the nerve roots are located in close proximity to the bones and joints of the spine, they are particularly susceptible to compression from a variety of sources, such as:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated or bulging intervertebral discs
- Facet disease or other disorders affecting the vertebral joints
- Traumatic or mild injury
- Regular aging
- Spinal stenosis
- Other forms of osteoarthritis
The good news is that the thoracic spine is relatively stable when compared to the more flexible cervical spine (in the neck) and the lumbar spine (in the lower back). This stability makes compressed T1-T12 nerve roots less common; however, this is not to say the thoracic spine is immune from problems.