Radiculopathy

 

Radiculopathy is an umbrella term used by medical professionals to describe the symptoms associated with a compressed or inflamed nerve root in the central nervous system. Symptoms can include back and neck pain that travels along the nerve root to other areas of the body, as well as muscle weakness, tingling, or numbness in the extremities. Radiculopathy can occur anywhere along the spine, but it is seen most often in the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) spine.

 

A common cause of radiculopathy is the presence of a herniated disc in the spine. Nestled in between the spinal vertebrae are soft cushions of joint cartilage that act as shock absorbers for the back and neck. These discs help give the spine its mobility, flexibility, and ability to carry weight. Occasionally, intervertebral discs can swell, shift, break apart, or even become herniated. As a result, disc material might come into contact with the neighboring nerve roots along the spine. It is this pressure and irritation that causes radiculopathy. Other causes of radiculopathy include pinched nerves, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, and foraminal stenosis.

 

The inflammation and compression of the nerve roots can result in chronic back and neck pain, as well as traveling pain along the nerve to locations in the body where that particular nerve root travels. This means radiculopathy pain is not limited to just the spine, but can reverberate across the rest of the body as well. Also, when a nerve root is impinged or compressed, it can interrupt nerve signals to the point that a patient experiences numbness, a pins and needles or burning sensation, and weakness in the extremities.

 

Radicular Pain

Radiculopathy pain is often referred to as sciatica, the term used to describe a dull or stabbing pain that occurs along your sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve provides sensations felt in the back of your thighs, lower legs, and feet. When this nerve is compressed or its roots become irritated, pain will radiate down the nerve's path, typically on one side of the body or the other. Visit our sciatic nerve overview page for a detailed look at your body's longest nerve. Radicular pain is often a symptom of an underlying condition like a herniated disc, spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease. The pain typically radiates into your leg, lower thigh, calf and foot, and can be accompanied by a tingling sensation, muscle weakness, numbness and loss of reflex. However, the course of pain radiation depends on which nerve or root is affected, and where it's located along the spine.

 

Radiculopathy Causes

A common cause of radiculopathy is the presence of a herniated disc in the spine. Nestled in between the spinal vertebrae are soft cushions of joint cartilage that act as shock absorbers for the back and neck. These discs help give the spine its mobility, flexibility, and ability to carry weight. Occasionally, intervertebral discs can swell, shift, break apart, or even become herniated. As a result, disc material might come into contact with the neighboring nerve roots along the spine. It is this pressure and irritation that causes radiculopathy. Other causes of radiculopathy include pinched nerves, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, and foraminal stenosis.

 

The inflammation and compression of the nerve roots can result in chronic back and neck pain, as well as traveling pain along the nerve to locations in the body where that particular nerve root travels. This means radiculopathy pain is not limited to just the spine, but can reverberate across the rest of the body as well. Also, when a nerve root is impinged or compressed, it can interrupt nerve signals to the point that a patient experiences numbness, a pins and needles or burning sensation, and weakness in the extremities.

 

Treatment of radiculopathy

Treatment of these symptoms is contingent on the identification of the underlying causes of radiculopathy. As radiculopathy isn't a condition in and of itself, a doctor must first diagnose the origin of the symptoms, be it a disc herniation, bone spur, foraminal stenosis, or arthritis.

 

Typical radiculopathy treatments include:

  • Physical therapy or bed rest
  • Introduction of hot and cold packs
  • Over-the-counter or prescription medication
  • Different diet and exercise patterns

From time to time, radiculopathy cannot be addressed with these conservative treatments. In this instance, a physician may suggest a surgical alternative to alleviate the pain associated with radiculopathy. Fortunately, the prognosis for a person suffering from back and neck conditions is positive in most cases. Contact us to learn about the exciting new procedures being completed to help bring pain relief.

 

Anatomical causes of radiculopathy

The anatomical causes of radiculopathy stem from a simple dysfunction of one of the body's nerves. When a nerve is pressured, symptoms of radiculopathy begin locally at the site of the compression, and also are transferred along the course of the nerve.

When radiculopathy causes a sensation of pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness that begins in the back or neck and travels to an arm or leg, it typically means that a nerve root has been irritated in the spinal column where the nerve branches off the spinal cord and travels to the area of the body it serves. Common irritants of nerve roots in the spine are the soft discs in between the vertebrae, or sometimes the vertebrae themselves. For instance, if an intervertebral disc becomes swollen or ruptures, it can extrude into the spinal canal and cause a nerve to become compressed, strained, or even pinched. The bony vertebrae also can compress nerve roots due to bone degeneration or the growth of bone spurs.

A person suffering from radiculopathy is mired with a variety of symptoms, including: traveling pain in the back and/or neck; numbness, tingling or less of sensation in the extremities; varying muscle weakness; and even the feeling of heat or pins and needles along the course of a nerve. So what is to blame for these unfortunate symptoms

 

Specific radiculopathy causes are varied, but typically originate from a number of spinal conditions, most notably:

  • A herniated disc in the lumbar, cervical, or thoracic spine segments
  • Spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal that increases the likelihood of pressure being placed on nerve roots
  • Foraminal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the opening through which nerve roots travel as they exit the spinal canal
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Traumatic Injury
  • The presence of bone spurs, tumors, or other outside influences

 

Fortunately, most causes of radiculopathy aren't serious and can be addressed individually with the help of a physician and a variety of radiculopathy treatments. On the rare occasion where the origin of radiculopathy is serious enough to warrant surgery, new alternatives to traditional open-back surgery are available. If you are suffering from radiculopathy, do not hesitate to contact us to learn more about our state-of-the-art outpatient procedures currently offered to help patients find meaningful pain relief from this frustrating condition.