Thoracic radiculopathy originates in the middle portion of the spine. The word “radiculopathy” refers to a variety of symptoms that include traveling pain, tingling, numbness or weakness. The word “thoracic” refers to the central part of the spine, comprised of 12 thoracic vertebrae.
Compared to lumbar radiculopathy (in the lower back) and cervical radiculopathy (in the neck), thoracic radiculopathy is rare. That’s because of the relative rigidity of the thoracic spine, which serves as an anchor for the ribs as well as support for the torso and upper body. This relative lack of flexibility, as contrasted with the cervical and lumbar regions, exposes the thoracic vertebrae (abbreviated as T1-12) to far less stress as the body ages.
Still, patients complaining of back or neck pain can’t rule out the thoracic region as the origin without a proper radiculopathy diagnosis. After an initial physical exam, a physician might order an MRI or CT scan to determine the location of an impinged or irritated nerve root. Potential conditions that might impinge on a nerve root and cause thoracic radiculopathy include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Bulging disc
- Herniated disc
- Bone spur
- Spinal injury, especially from repeated twisting or rotating
- Spinal stenosis
- Foraminal stenosis
- Diabetes, especially in older patients
The symptoms of thoracic radiculopathy normally can be managed through a course of conservative treatment. Conservative radiculopathy treatments generally include exercise, physical therapy, pain medications, behavior modification or therapeutic massage. Occasionally, chronic back pain persists even after weeks or months of conservative treatment. If this is the case, a physician might present surgery as an option.