What Is Radiculopathy ?

Commonly referred to as a pinched nerve, radiculopathy is injury or damage to nerve roots in the area where they leave the spine. This condition can affect anyone and can be the result disc degeneration, disc herniation or other trauma.

Types of Radiculopathy

  • Cervical radiculopathy: Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated at the point where it leaves the spinal cord. This can result in pain in shoulders, and muscle weakness and numbness that travels down the arm into the hand.

  • Lumbar radiculopathy: Lumbar radiculopathy occurs in the lower region of the spine and is associated with sciatica pain. The lower back is the most common area affected by radiculopathy.

  • Thoracic radiculopathy: Thoracic radiculopathy is a pinched nerve that occurs in the upper region of the back, causing symptoms such as tingling, pain and numbness that can extend to the front of the body.

Symptoms of Radiculopathy

The pain caused by cervical radiculopathy can be described as burning or sharp, stemming from the neck and traveling to other parts of the body connected to the damaged nerve.

Radiculopathy symptoms might include:

● Tingling or numbness in the fingers or hand

● Weakness in arm, shoulder or hand

● Decreased motor skills

● Loss of sensation

● Pain associated with neck movement or straining

Causes of Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy occurs often with aging. As the body starts to age, the discs in the spine start to degenerate and begin to bulge. Discs in the spine also begin to dry out and stiffen. The body responds to these changes by creating bone spurs to strengthen the discs. Unfortunately, this results in the narrowing of the nerve root exit and pinches the nerve.

Common causes of radiculopathy include:

  • Arthritis
  • Herniated discs
  • Spondylosis
  • Bone spurs

Diagnosis of Radiculopathy

A careful physical exam and a review of medical history is the first step in diagnosing radiculopathy. Depending on where you have symptoms, your doctor will examine your neck, shoulders, arms, and hands.

Your doctor will check:

  • For numbness or loss of feeling
  • Your muscle reflexes
  • Your muscle strength
  • Your posture, or the way your spine curves

Other diagnostic tests your doctor may recommend include:

  • X-rays to show the alignment of the bones along your neck and determine any narrowing or damage to the discs.
  • Spine MRI or Spine CT scan to identify bone spurs and bulging or herniated discs pressing on the nerve roots or spinal cord.
  • Electromyogram to determine the exact nerve root that is involved.

Treating Radiculopathy

In some cases, the symptoms of radiculopathy get better over time and do not require treatment. If pain or other symptoms persist, your health care team will likely recommend a surgical procedure based on the symptoms and location of the affected nerve root.

Non-surgical treatment for radiculopathy include:

  • Rest or activity modification
  • Physical therapy
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroid injections in the spine

Surgery may be recommended to treat underlying conditions related to radiculopathy, including:

  • Spinal decompression surgery
    • Discectomy
    • Laminectomy
  • Spinal Fusion
  • Foraminotomy
  • Disc replacement surgery

 

Penn Programs & Services for Radiculopathy

Spine Center

The Penn Spine Center provides comprehensive clinical care and surgery for patients with back and neck pain.

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