Thoracic nerve roots are structures that exist in pairs in the middle back and are responsible for facilitating the flow of information between the brain and the nerve endings in the torso, middle back and inner arms. These nerve roots branch off the spinal cord in the thoracic spine segment and extend out of the spinal canal through openings in the vertebrae called foramina. This close proximity to bony vertebrae, as well as to spongy discs between the vertebrae, puts thoracic nerve roots at risk of compression, although nerve compression in the thoracic spine is less common than in the cervical (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back) segments.
The central nervous system (CNS) is an essential component to life, movement and sensations. Consisting of the brain and spinal cord, this complex system sends and receives a variety of signals throughout the body that sustain regular function. The nerve roots are the base where this information leaves the spinal cord and gets translated throughout the far reaches of the body. Some examples of the functions controlled by spinal nerve roots include:
- Muscle control, flexion and extension
- The sense of touch, including pain receptors
- Organ function
However, should one of the 12 thoracic nerve roots, known as the T1-12 nerve roots, become compressed, regular function may be interrupted and numerous symptoms may follow. It is interesting to note that the thoracic spine is relatively stable – as it is responsible for supporting the ribcage – so problems are less likely than at other regions of the spine, but this is not to say thoracic vertebrae are immune from deterioration. A large variety of conditions can be at fault of middle back pain, such as:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
- Facet disease
- Traumatic injury
If you have any of these conditions and are experiencing pain or neurological symptoms as a result of a pinched nerve root, the first step is to schedule a consultation with your local physician. In most cases, the symptoms associated with compressed thoracic nerve roots can be managed with a conservative treatment plan over the course of several months.