What is Thoracic Nerve Compression?
Thoracic nerve compression refers to a compressed nerve root in the thoracic region of the spine, also called the upper back.
The spine is made up of several bones called vertebrae and the spinal cord runs through a passage or canal in the centre of these bones. Nerve roots split from the cord and pass between the vertebrae into several areas of the body. When these nerve roots become compressed or pinched, it is referred to as spinal nerve compression.
Thoracic Spine Anatomy
The thoracic spine is the central part of the spine. The spine is made up of 24 spinal bones, called vertebrae, of which the thoracic region of the spine is made up of 12 vertebrae (T1-T12). The vertebrae are aligned on top of one another to form the spine, which gives your body its posture. The different parts of the thoracic spine include bone and joints, nerves, connective tissues, muscles and spinal segment.
Causes of Thoracic Nerve Compression
Anything that presses on a thoracic nerve and disrupts its normal function can be considered as a potential cause of thoracic nerve compression, including:
- Herniated disks that place pressure on the nerves and cause inflammation and irritation of the nerves.
- Degenerative disk disease that results in gradual wearing out of the intervertebral disk resulting in loss of space at the intervertebral foramen.
- Trauma or muscle spasm that applies pressure on the peripheral nerve, producing symptoms along the peripheral nerve’s distribution path.
- Degenerative joint disease that results in the formation of bony spurs on the facet joints can narrow the intervertebral space placing pressure on the exiting nerve.
Symptoms of Thoracic Nerve Compression
Common symptoms of thoracic nerve compression may include:
- Pain and tenderness that originates in the neck and passes to the shoulder, back, and chest
- Tingling or numbness may be felt from the neck to the posterior shoulder, back and thorax or chest
- Muscle spasms and changes in posture in response to the injury
- Loss of motion, such as inability to bend backward or sideways or turn the body
- Poor tolerance for sitting
- Muscle weakness that can lead to muscle atrophy
Diagnosis of Thoracic Nerve Compression
Your doctor physically examines for external depression, change in skin colour, the location of pain, weakness, swelling, change in pulse, etc. Your doctor will also review your medical history. Your doctor may order an X-ray, CT-scan, or MRI for further details of thoracic nerve compression.
Treatment of Thoracic Nerve Compression
Treatment may involve non-surgical or surgical methods.
Non-surgical treatments may include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs and other pain medication
- Application of ice to reduce pain and associated muscle spasm
- Ample rest to avoid the activities that produce the pain (lifting, bending, turning, twisting, etc)
- An exercise regimen designed particularly to address the cause of the symptoms and improve joint mobility, spinal alignment, posture, and range of motion
- Thoracic nerve or epidural injections
- Steroidal medication to reduce inflammation in moderate to severe conditions
- Physiotherapy to reduce inflammation, restore joint function, improve motion, and help the return of full function.
If non-surgical treatment does not alleviate your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgical procedures that may include:
- Endoscopic Foraminotomy
- Percutaneous Decompression
- Endoscopic Decompression
- Selective Endoscopic Diskectomy
- Spinal Cord Stimulator
- Laser Facet Arthrotomy