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What is Radiculopathy?


Your spine is made up of bones (vertebrae) with the spinal cord running through the spinal canal that is located between the vertebrae. Nerve roots travel out of the cord and to different areas of the body. Any condition or injury that affects these nerves results in symptoms, which are called radiculopathy.

There are different types of radiculopathy depending on the affected location of the spine, and each one can cause different symptoms. Types of radiculopathy include:

  • Cervical radiculopathy – This refers to a compressed nerve in the cervical spine, which is the neck.
  • Thoracic radiculopathy – This refers to a compressed nerve in the thoracic spine, which is the upper back.
  • Lumbar radiculopathy – This refers to a compressed nerve in the lumbar spine, which is the lower back.

Radiculopathy can include pain, numbness and weakness in the parts of the body that are connected to the compressed nerve root. Radiculopathy symptoms can be severe and impact your ability to go about your daily activities.

If you’re experiencing neck or back pain and other symptoms caused by a pinched nerve, Back Pain Centers of America can help. Our board-certified specialists have helped thousands of patients get relief from back pain when conservative treatments failed. Call [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] today to learn more.

How radiculopathy can impact your life and cause pain

Radiculopathy Causes and Risk Factors

Radiculopathy occurs when a spinal nerve is compressed by other spinal tissues, such as a spinal disc or bone spur. Radiculopathy can also result from:

The risk of these conditions and the development of radiculopathy are increased by anything that puts stress on the spine and causes degeneration of the spine, including:

  • Aging
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scoliosis
  • Occupations and activities involving repetitive movements
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Poor posture
  • Improper lifting
  • Family history of degenerative conditions

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Radiculopathy Symptoms

A compressed nerve root can cause several symptoms that can range from mild to severe. These symptoms can include:

  • Pain – Depending on where along the spine the compressed nerve is located, you may experience pain, often sharp, in the neck, shoulders, back, arms, and legs. Pain is usually worse with movement and upon waking up in the morning.
  • Numbness or tingling – A pinched nerve in the neck can cause numbness or tingling in arms and hands while a pinched nerve in the lower back can cause these symptoms in the buttocks, legs, and feet.
  • Weakness – Weakness in the arms and legs can result from a pinched nerve depending on the location. In some cases, the weakness can limit movement of these parts.

In severe cases, a compressed nerve can cause problems with your bladder and bowels. If you lose control of your bladder or bowels, this is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Radiculopathy Treatment Options

Radiculopathy should begin with a series of conservative treatments. Nonsurgical radiculopathy treatment may include a combination of any of the following (consult your physician to find out what is right for your case):

  • Pain medication – Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, including analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can relieve mild to moderate pain and inflammation. Prescription medication can be used short-term if OTC medications don’t provide enough relief. Note that Back Pain Centers of America is not involved in prescribing narcotic pain medications.
  • Muscle relaxants – A muscle relaxant can stop painful muscle spasms.
  • Ice packs and heating pads – Applying heat and cold can lessen pain and reduce inflammation. Alternating between hot and cold has been found to be most effective.
  • Physical therapy – The role of a physical therapist is to teach you proper lifting and posture techniques, as well as exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion, and to support the spine through the strengthening of the surrounding muscles.
  • Steroid injections – Steroid medication, which is sometimes combined with a numbing agent, is injected into the affected area of the spine to reduce inflammation and relieve pain for a few weeks.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if conservative radiculopathy treatment has failed to relieve your symptoms. You may also need surgery if muscle weakness is impacting your ability to function. There are several procedures that can be used in the treatment of radiculopathy. The procedure(s) used will depend on what is compressing the nerve and causing radiculopathy. This may include surgery to:

  • Repair a bulging or herniated disc
  • Widen the space in the spinal canal
  • Remove bone spurs
  • Fusing two or more vertebrae to stabilize the spine

These procedures are performed using minimally invasive techniques that offer patients relief from their symptoms without the tissue damage or long recovery of traditional invasive spine surgery.

You don’t have to live with back pain. Call Back Pain Centers of America today to learn more about our minimally invasive back pain treatments. We have helped more than 30,000 others find relief and can do the same for you. Call us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to get matched with a board-certified spine specialist who can provide you with the treatment you need.

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