The thoracic region of your spine, also known as the middle back, is made up of 12 vertebrae between the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) spine. When nerves in this area become compressed or damaged, it can lead to a range of symptoms that can greatly impact your quality of life.
Because thoracic spine nerve damage can often be mistaken for other conditions or can be asymptomatic in its early stages, it’s important to be aware of its symptoms and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The symptoms of thoracic spine nerve damage can vary widely depending on the location and severity of the damage. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Tingling or Numbness in the Back, Chest, or Abdomen
When the nerves in the thoracic region become compressed, they can send signals of discomfort or numbness to the areas of the body they service. This may feel like tingling or pins and needles in the back, chest, or abdomen.
Radiating Pain or Discomfort Throughout the Body
Thoracic spine nerve damage can cause pain that radiates from the middle of your back outwards. This pain may be sharp or dull and may worsen with movement or exertion.
Muscle Weakness or Wasting in the Arms, Legs, or Torso
When the nerves that control the muscles in your arms, legs, or torso become damaged, it can lead to muscle weakness or wasting. This can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks or engage in physical activity.
Poor Coordination or Balance
Thoracic spine nerve damage can impact your balance and coordination, making it difficult to walk, stand, or sit upright without assistance.
Difficulty Breathing or Shortness of Breath
Nerves in the thoracic region of your spine also control the muscles used for breathing. Damage to these nerves can make breathing difficult or cause shortness of breath.
Changes in Bowel or Bladder Function
Thoracic spine nerve damage can impact the nerves that control your bowel and bladder function. This can lead to incontinence, difficulty emptying your bladder or bowels, or constipation.
Why Symptoms Can Be Difficult to Identify
One of the challenges of identifying thoracic spine nerve damage is that many of its symptoms can be attributed to other conditions. For example, back pain can be caused by issues in the lumbar or cervical spine, while shortness of breath can often be attributed to lung or heart conditions.
Additionally, thoracic spine nerve damage may be asymptomatic in its early stages, meaning you may not experience any symptoms until the damage has progressed. This is why it’s important to seek medical attention if you suspect you may be experiencing nerve damage.
Diagnosing Thoracic Spine Nerve Damage
Diagnosing thoracic spine nerve damage typically involves a combination of physical examination and imaging tests. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist for further evaluation.
During a physical examination, your doctor will evaluate your range of motion, strength, and reflexes. They may also perform specific tests to assess nerve function, such as the straight leg raise test or the Spurling test.
Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI, can help identify the location and severity of nerve damage. These tests can also help rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
Nerve Conduction Studies or Electromyography (EMG)
Nerve conduction studies or EMG may be done to evaluate the function of nerves in the affected area. These tests involve placing electrodes on the skin to measure electrical activity in the muscles and nerves.
Referral to a Specialist
Depending on your symptoms and test results, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist, orthopedic surgeon, or pain management specialist.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with thoracic spine nerve damage, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that best suits your needs. Some of the most common treatment options include:
Physical therapy can help build strength and flexibility in affected muscles and help improve your range of motion. Your physical therapist may also teach you specific exercises or techniques to help manage your symptoms.
Medications, such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, can help manage your symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe other medications, such as muscle relaxants or antidepressants, depending on your specific symptoms.
Injection therapy, such as steroid injections or nerve blocks, can help reduce inflammation and provide temporary relief of symptoms.
In severe cases or when other treatments are ineffective, surgery may be necessary. Surgery may involve removing the source of compression or damage, or it may involve spinal fusion to stabilize the affected area.
Managing Your Symptoms
While there is no cure for thoracic spine nerve damage, there are steps you can take to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Some strategies for managing your symptoms include:
Establishing a Support System
Surrounding yourself with a healthcare provider, family, friends, and support groups can help you cope with your condition and navigate the challenges it presents.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Engaging in regular exercise, following a healthy diet, and engaging in stress-management techniques like meditation or yoga can help improve your overall health and reduce your symptoms.
Seeking Emotional and Mental Health Support
Mood changes and mental health concerns are common among those living with chronic pain and other conditions. Seeking the help of a mental health professional can help you learn coping techniques and improve your overall well-being.
Thoracic spine nerve damage can cause a range of symptoms that can greatly impact your quality of life. By understanding the common symptoms of thoracic spine nerve damage and seeking medical attention early on, you can take steps to manage your symptoms and improve your overall well-being.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of thoracic spine nerve damage, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your concerns. With the right treatment and management strategies, you can improve your quality of life and minimize the impact of your symptoms.