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What is thoracic radiculopathy?

Thoracic radiculopathy occurs when there is an impingement of a nerve in the upper back. This can cause pain, weakness and neurological symptoms such as numbness or pins and needles. The upper back is the least common part of the spine to be affected by radiculopathy.

Progressive strengthening exercises targeting the back musclesAbove: Progressive strengthening exercises targeting the back muscles

What causes thoracic radiculopathy?

Thoracic radiculopathy is caused by a change in the structure of the thoracic spine (upper back) which creates compression of a nerve. This compression causes symptoms. Causes of this compression include:
  • Disc herniation
  • Repetitive loading of the spine
  • Acute injury
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Degenerative changes
  • Decreased disc height
  • Inflammation following trauma
  • Diabetes
  • Scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)

What are the symptoms of thoracic radiculopathy?

Symptoms of thoracic radiculopathy can manifest across the upper back and around into the chest. Symptoms can include:
  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Reduced range of movement
  • Numbness
  • Pins and needles

Soft tissue massage of mid thoracic spine regionAbove: Soft tissue massage of mid thoracic spine region

Physiotherapy for thoracic radiculopathy

Physiotherapy can be very effective in treating thoracic radiculopathy. At your physiotherapist will assess your upper back and provide individualised treatment. Treatment may include:
  • Cold/heat therapy
  • Advice on correct positioning/posture to relieve pain
  • Manipulation/mobilization
  • Acupuncture
  • Range of movement exercises
  • Stretching exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Advice on preventing future recurrence

Can thoracic radiculopathy cause any long-term effects?

Physiotherapy can resolve symptoms in most cases and a full recovery can be made. In some cases physiotherapy may not be able to fully resolve the problem. In these instances injections can be used to treat the problem. If these are not successful either then surgery is considered.

Hacking percussion massage applied to the upper back musclesAbove: Hacking percussion massage applied to the upper back muscles

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