Radiculopathy Q & A
What is radiculopathy?
Radiculopathy is a pinched nerve that occurs in your spine.
Your spine is made up of a series of vertebrae, or bones with a semi-hollow center through which your spinal cord runs. Your spinal cord has a series of nerves that branch off to the rest of your body, exiting through openings in your spine called foramina.
Radiculopathy occurs when the roots of these nerves that connect to the spinal cord are compressed by the surrounding bones and cartilage and become inflamed.
What are the symptoms of radiculopathy?
The symptoms of radiculopathy can range from mild to severe, and can include:
- Shooting pains
- Sharp pains that are more severe with particular movements, like coughing or sneezing
- Reduced reflexes
- Reduced or changed sensation
For some people, the symptoms of radiculopathy can be chronic and persistent. For others, they can be periodic and occur only during flare-ups. Symptoms vary based on the type of radiculopathy you have.
What are the different types of radiculopathy?
There are three different types of radiculopathy, depending on where in the spine the affected nerve is located. Although the condition is the same in all three types, the effects of each can be markedly different.
When the pinched nerve root is in your neck, it can cause a tingling, weakness, or loss of feeling in your shoulder, arm, hand, or finger.
When the pinched nerve root is in your upper back, it can cause pain in your chest and torso, and is sometimes mistaken for shingles.
When the pinched nerve root is in your lower back, it can cause hip pain and sciatica, and, in some severe cases, can lead to sexual dysfunction, incontinence, and paralysis.
What causes radiculopathy?
Radiculopathy happens when the tissues surrounding the nerve roots, such as the spinal vertebrae, tendons, or discs, shift in position or change in size and press up against a nerve root. This can happen because of physical injuries, like an accident or a herniated disc, or because of degenerative diseases like bone spurs, which narrow the foramina and compress the nerve root.
How is radiculopathy treated?
Radiculopathy is typically treated with either physical therapy, injections, or a combination of both. Physical therapy strengthens the muscles affecting the pinched nerve and staves off further damage. Injections, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can help to manage the pain, while steroid injections help to reduce the inflammation.