The upper back contains two segments of the backbone, known as the cervical and thoracic spine. Multiple nerves come out of the spine in the upper back and can become compressed or pinched. A slipped disc or pressure from nearby muscles and tendons can compress nerves. Poor posture, arthritis, injury or stress from repetitive motions can lead to compression from muscles or tendons or contribute to a slipped disc. Compressed nerves can produce a variety of symptoms, which typically warrant a thorough evaluation and treatment.
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Pain is one of the most common symptoms of a pinched nerve in the upper back. In some cases the pain is felt in the neck or upper back where the nerve is pinched. However, because the nerves that emerge from the spinal cord in the upper back travel to other locations, pain can be felt elsewhere. Compression of nerves in the cervical spine can cause pain in the arms along the nerve's path. Nerve compression in the thoracic spine can also cause pain in the arms, as well as the back and trunk. In some cases this pain gets worse with head movement.
Tingling and Numbness
Many of the nerves in the upper back carry sensory information from the rest of the body back to the brain. Pinching of these nerves can lead to numbness and tingling. Numbness and tingling from a pinched nerve in the upper back can occur along the back or in the arms, neck and chest. Often pain and numbness or tingling will occur simultaneously, but these symptoms can occur separately.
If a pinched nerve in the upper back contains nerves that send signals to muscles, the muscles themselves may be affected. Depending on the severity of the compression, the muscles may be weakened or completely paralyzed. Over time, muscles weakened by a pinched nerve may shrink. In some cases, the muscle weakness progresses over time. As a result, if you have a pinched nerve in your upper back, you could have problems holding onto objects or raising your arms over your head due to muscle weakness.
Loss of Bowel and Bladder Control
Bowel or bladder problems are potentially dangerous complications of a pinched nerve in the back. This occurs when the condition pinching the nerve also presses on the spinal cord, causing a loss of signals from the nervous system to the bladder and bowel. This can cause an inability to control bowel movements and urination. These situations require prompt medical evaluation. Surgery is typically needed to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord and nerve tissue.
- Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment 2013; Maxine Papadakis
- American Family Physician: Cervical Radiculopathy -- Nonoperative Management of Neck Pain and Radicular Symptoms
- Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences: Thoracic Radiculopathy Caused by Ossification of the Ligamentum Flavum