Key Points about thoracic radiculopathy

  • Thoracic radiculopathy occurs when a nerve in your middle spine is compressed.
  • Several other conditions – including degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc – can cause thoracic radiculopathy.
  • Treatment for this condition may include a combination of pain relievers, physical therapy or surgery.
Common related conditions
Thoracic Myelopathy Spine Infections Scoliosis

Thoracic radiculopathy occurs when the nerve or nerve roots of the thoracic (middle area) spine are compressed. 

Thoracic radiculopathy causes 

The causes of thoracic radiculopathy include:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Herniated disc
  • Muscle spasm in the back
  • Trauma to the back

Thoracic radiculopathy risk factors

Factors that put you at an increased risk for developing thoracic radiculopathy include:

  • Having a herniated disc
  • Having bone spurs in the spine
  • Having degenerative disc disease
  • Having degenerative joint disease
  • Having muscle spasms to the spine
  • Having suffered trauma to the spine

Thoracic radiculopathy symptoms

Signs and symptoms of thoracic radiculopathy are:

  • Inability to bend backward, move sideways or move your torso
  • Inability to sit for long periods of time
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in the neck, shoulder, back or chest
  • Pain and tenderness at the site of the affected nerve
  • Pain that travels from the lower neck to the shoulder, back and chest
  • Pain that worsens with physical activity, and decreases with rest

Thoracic radiculopathy diagnosis

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose thoracic radiculopathy:

Physical exam. Your specialist will complete a physical examination, which includes looking for signs of muscle weakness, loss of sensation or changes in reflexes.

Imaging tests. Your doctor may order imaging tests – such as X-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – to get a detailed image of your spine.

Electromyography (EMG). This test measures your electrical impulses while you are at rest and performing certain activities. An EMG can determine whether your nerves are functioning as expected.

Thoracic radiculopathy treatment

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options for thoracic radiculopathy:

Physical therapy. You may work with a physical therapist to learn exercises to reduce your pain, strengthen your muscles and improve your range of motion.

Medications. You may need to take medication – such as pain relievers or corticosteroids – to reduce your pain, swelling and inflammation.

Steroid injection. Your doctor may inject a steroid medication directly to your spine to reduce your symptoms.

Surgery. If other, more conservative treatment options aren’t effective at controlling your thoracic radiculopathy symptoms, you may need to undergo surgery to correct the problem that has caused your thoracic radiculopathy.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a spine specialist for more specialized treatment.