What is Radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy is a group of conditions that together cause one or more of your nerves to not work the way they should, resulting in lost muscle control, pain and weakness or numbness.

Radiculopathy is often caused by the compression of the root of one of your nerves, possibly because of spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease or another condition.

Types of Radiculopathy

There are three primary forms of radiculopathy, named after the part of the spinal column in which they’re located:

  • Cervical radiculopathy: The cervical vertebrae are found at the top of the spinal column, just below the skull. Cervical radiculopathy results from a compressed or pinched nerve in the upper back or neck. It can lead to pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or hands. Symptoms will typically manifest on one side of the body or the other (not both). 
  • Lumbar radiculopathy: The lumbar vertebrae comprise the spinal column in the lower back, just above the pelvis. When nerve compression occurs in this part of the spine, the numbness and pain are felt in the lower back, pelvic region, legs, or feet. Sitting, standing, or walking for long periods without relief can worsen the symptoms. Sciatica is another name for lumbar radiculopathy. 
  • Thoracic radiculopathy: Thoracic vertebrae form the spine’s middle segment, associated with the rib cage. Thoracic radiculopathy is a compressed or pinched nerve of the middle back. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, and shooting pains in the front and back of the chest or abdominal region. Thoracic radiculopathy is sometimes misdiagnosed as shingles. 

Pinched nerves of the spinal column have numerous causes, including herniated discs, spinal stenosis, arthritis, compression fractures, degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, tumors, scoliosis, and spondylolisthesis. 

Radiculopathy Symptoms 

Common signs and symptoms of radiculopathy may include:

  • Pain
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Trouble controlling muscle movement, often in one particular muscle set

Radiculopathy Diagnosis

Diagnosis of radiculopathy is usually made with a clinical exam and diagnostic tests. Methods of radiculopathy diagnosis include:

  • MRI scan, to see the area of suspected degeneration
  • Nerve Conduction Study, including electromyography, which may show nerve root damage

Radiculopathy Treatment

Conservative treatment for radiculopathy may include:

  • Medications intended to repair root damage and underlying symptoms, such as pain 
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation to improve your muscle function 

If your condition does not improve with conservative treatment,  additional treatment for radiculopathy may include spinal surgery, such as a laminotomy or discectomy.

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