Thoracic Radiculopathy ~ 5 Things You Must Need To Know

Thoracic radiculopathy denotes a pinched nerve in the thoracic area of the spine. This condition happens when the surrounding cartilage and bones experience changes due to an injury or wear and tear. Its symptoms follow a dermatomal distribution which leads to numbness and pain wrapping around to the frontal part of the body.

Another way of putting it is – when your nerve roots compress, it gets inflamed and causes weakness, numbness and pain.  

Most radiculopathy symptoms occur in different areas of the spinal nerves.  And they often fall into the category of cervical radiculopathiesthoracic rediculopathy and lumbar radiculopathy. 

However, since thoracic radiculopathy is the least common condition seen in individuals, with appropriate treatment and proper thoracic radiculopathy exercise; its symptoms can diminish.

Studies show that thoracic radiculopathy symptoms can also reduce by non-surgical treatments, pain medications, physical therapy and minimally invasive surgeries. 

Here in this post; we will further discuss 5 must-know aspects of thoracic radiculopathy

So continue reading…!

5 Crucial Things to Know About Thoracic Radiculopathy

1. The Background/Anatomy of Thoracic Radiculopathy 

As you already know, thoracic radiculopathy indicates a worn-out/degenerative nerve root present in the thoracic spine. But of all the radiculopathy conditions, this is perhaps the least common one. 

There is a very rational explanation for that. Generally speaking, there is little movement in the thoracic spine in comparison to the lumbar and cervical spine. As a result of this, the frequency of this condition is much lower than the other two conditions. 

The crucial structures of thoracic region include as follows –

– T1-T12 of the thoracic vertebrae 

– 12 pair of spinal nerve roots 

– The thoracic vertebrae’s intervertebral disc 

– 12 rami which include – posterior rami innervating the back muscles, ventral rami innervating muscles of the chest, skin and abdominal region

2. The Common Causes of Thoracic Radiculopathy 

Often experts explain – “Whenever which encroaches or puts pressure on the nerve can often disrupt the nerve root functioning. That often leads to a nerve root block.”

They further point out the common causes below –

– A loss of space at the intervertebral foramina occurs due to disc height reduction or degenerative disc disease resulting due to a worn-out intervertebral disc  

– Any form of muscle spasm or trauma can put pressure on the peripheral nerve. That consequently can disrupt the nerve’s distribution path and produce symptoms

– Herniated discs can also add extra pressure and irritable inflammation on peripheral nerve 

– Furthermore, any degenerative joint disease which causes bony spurs on the facet joints also contributes to the narrowing of the intervertebral space. Consequently, that puts extra pressure on the present spinal nerve

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3. The Chief Symptoms of Thoracic Radiculopathy

Doctors specializing in treating thoracic radiculopathy state – “Often the symptoms take place along the same path that the nerve moves.” 

According to them, there are some of the common symptoms as follows –

– An irritating ache which initially starts in the lower neck portion and transfers over to the posterior shoulder, chest and back

– Pain and soreness at the level of the affected nerve 

– A tingling and numbing sensation occurring first in the neck and then shifting over to the thorax, chest, back and posterior shoulder

– Posture changes and muscle spasm as a result of the injury

– Muscle atrophy occurring on the muscle innervated by the pinched nerve due to long-term pressure on the nerve

– Experiencing ache due to excessive work but getting relief by taking rest

– Inability to bend backwards, turn the trunk or move sideward to the injured side

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4. Common Diagnosis & Treatments of Thoracic Radiculopathy 

To diagnose radiculopathy or degenerative disc/ disc disease; your specialist will conduct a physical exam. As a part of that exam, the doctor will perform some tests and run some scans. 

They include as follows –

Radiography – 

– X-ray to check the bone alignment or sight any narrowing of discs or disc disease 

– CT scans to get more precise details of the bones of the vertebral bodies

– An MRI scan to get clear images of the nerve roots, spinal cord, degenerative disc and soft tissues 

– An electromyogram for EMG to gauge the electrical impulses of the muscles – both during contractions and when at rest

– Lastly, nerve conduction to measure the nerves’ ability to dispatch electrical signals

In addition to these, your doctor will also conduct a physical test to determine the muscles strength and reflexes. If you do experience pain due to certain movements, the doctor will take it into account and identify the nerve blocks or worn nerve root.

Possible treatments of thoracic radiculopathy include home care, surgery, medications and a combination of other treatments.

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Home care treatments include as follows –

– Limiting those activities/chores which can aggravate the discomfort and lead to spinal stenosis

– Using a splint or brace to immobilize the aching area 

– Taking bed rests and giving time to heal the aching area 

In addition to all these, you can also take up physical therapy. It may include both hot and cold therapy, some mildly stretching exercises and other mobility exercises to relieve symptoms.

There are very few specific manual therapy and osteopathy approach by which pain can be manage very effictievely.

Moreover, if your job needs you to reach, push, pull and lift objects and sit around for longa physiotherapist will teach you the right ways to do those tasks and lessen undue stress.

So, it is safe to say that the role of physiotherapy in thoracic radiculopathy does have its importance in relieving you from any existing discomfort. And it is definitely something worth thinking about.

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Medical treatments include as follows –

Oral corticosteroids

– Analgesics

– Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs- for example, Ibuprofen (Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve)

– Prescription opioids for extreme discomfort

– Spinal corticosteroid injections

– Muscle relaxants

Surgical treatments include as follows –

– Spinal Cord Stimulator

– Endoscopic Decompression

– Selective Endoscopic Discectomy

– Endoscopic Foraminotomy

– IDET (Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy)

– Epidural Lysis of Adhesions

– Percutaneous Decompression

– Laser Facet Arthrotomy

Other pain management conducts are as follows –

– Spinal extension exercises in mild cases

– Applying ice in acute thoracic radiculopathy to prevent discomfort and any muscle spasm

– Formulating a unique exercise regime to identify the main symptoms of the pinched nerve and improve spinal alignment, mobility range, joint movement and posture correction.

– Employing spinal manipulations to restore joint function

– Adopting rest therapy which includes avoiding activities like bending, twisting, lifting, turning and back bending to stop the pain

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5. Measures to prevent thoracic radiculopathy 

Experts in thoracic radiculopathy, suggest these spine health tips to prevent thoracic radiculopathy. 

They are as follows.

– Don’t slough. Keep both feet on the ground when sitting. And practice good sitting posture.

– When picking up something, bow your knees (instead of bending your back/whole body) to reach the item

– Use supportive shoes, preferably ones with quality arch support. Refrain from using high heels for a long.

– Perform flexibility and strength exercises every day to prevent spinal stenosis and protect your spine intervertebral discs

– Take frequent brakes while working

– Maintain a healthy weight and good spinal stance to avoid any radiculopathy occurrences

– Always ask for help whenever you lift bulky or heavy objects.

– If you experience mild to moderate pain in your spine, consult with a specialist immediately. 

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Key Point to Remember

With time, numerous spinal changes take place in your body. Several conditions like obesity, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis also play a role in increasing risks of radiculopathy.

In most cases, thoracic radiculopathy affects individuals ageing between 30-50 years. Pregnant women are also at high risk of radiculopathy conditions.

At best, what you can do is stay physically fit, maintain a good sitting posture and perform strength and flexibility exercises regularly. Maintaining proper spine health will help you avoid any form of radiculopathy.

Hopefully, this post was useful to you. Stay tuned for more…!

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