Radiculopathy is a pinched nerve or compressed nerve in the spine. If the radiculopathy occurs in the neck, it is often referred to as cervical radiculopathy. If it occurs in the lower back, it is called lumbar radiculopathy. Although not as common, thoracic radiculopathy occurs when there is a pinched nerve in the midback area. Tingling, weakness, numbness, and pain are common symptoms of radiculopathy.
Both radiculopathy and sciatica are conditions resulting from a pinched nerve. Radiculopathy can occur anywhere in the spine, whereas sciatica only occurs when the pinched nerve originates in the sciatic nerve, which is located in the lower back area and extends down the buttocks into the leg. Because both conditions involve a pinched nerve, symptoms of radiculopathy and sciatica are similar as are treatment options.
Radiculopathy is often diagnosed through a physical exam, imaging tests, and nerve conduction studies in tandem with an electromyography (EMG). Conservative treatments like medications, physical therapy, and spinal injections provide relief for most patients with radiculopathy.
FAQs About Radiculopathy
Continue reading below to learn more about radiculopathy, or click on one of these links to go directly to the information that interests you.
- What is cervical radiculopathy?
- What is lumbar radiculopathy?
- What are the signs and symptoms of radiculopathy?
- What are risk factors for developing radiculopathy?
- What causes radiculopathy?
- How is radiculopathy diagnosed?
- When should I consider surgery for radiculopathy?
- How do I relieve pain caused by radiculopathy?
- Can I treat radiculopathy at home?
What is cervical radiculopathy?
When a pinched nerve occurs in the neck, or cervical spine, it is called cervical radiculopathy. Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy may include hand or arm weakness, tingling, pain, or numbness.
What is lumbar radiculopathy?
Lumbar radiculopathy occurs when there is a pinched nerve in the lower back. Often, this type of pinched nerve is called sciatica, as the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the lower back area. Lumbar radiculopathy is the most common type of radiculopathy. Sharp pain in the lower back; numbness or weakness in the leg or back; and tingling sensations in the lower back, leg, or foot are all symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy.
What are the signs and symptoms of radiculopathy?
Signs and symptoms of radiculopathy vary by patient and location of the pinched nerve. Pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness are all signs of radiculopathy.
What are risk factors for developing radiculopathy?
People who are in their 30s and older tend to be more susceptible to radiculopathy. Obesity; poor posture; a family history of degenerative bone diseases; continuous, repetitive movements; poor lifting techniques; trauma; and injury all increase your risk for developing radiculopathy. Other conditions like diabetes may also increase your risk for developing radiculopathy.
What causes radiculopathy?
Bone spurs, herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, scoliosis, and narrowing of the spine (stenosis) have all been linked to radiculopathy. Injury and tumors of the spine are also factors that may lead to radiculopathy.
How is radiculopathy diagnosed?
Your spine and pain management physician will complete a medical history and physical examination. You may be asked to walk so the physician and analyze your spine’s ability to carry your weight. You may also be asked to do reflex tests to help pinpoint the location of the pinched nerve.
Imaging tests like CT or MRI of the spine can be used to help identify the location of the nerve causing the pain. MRI of the spine may also be used to determine the root cause of a pinched nerve causing radiculopathy. A spine MRI can help in planning the best course of action for treating radiculopathy.
Nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG) may also be used to stimulate the muscle or nerve and then measure the electrical response. This diagnostic tool can help decipher between a neurological condition and a muscle/nerve issue.
When should I consider surgery for radiculopathy?
Surgery is typically only a final resort for radiculopathy and should only be considered after conservative treatments have failed to ease symptoms. Surgery is usually reserved for when the compressed or pinched nerve causes significant weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control, or when pain has progressively worsened or does not improve with other therapies.
How do I relieve pain caused by radiculopathy?
Relieving pain from radiculopathy depends on your symptoms. You may find that with over-the-counter pain medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes, you can manage or eliminate your radiculopathy. Your spine and pain management physician will work closely with you to determine the best course of treatment for your pain. Spinal injections may be recommended if more conservative treatment options are ineffective. Treatment of radiculopathy rarely involves surgery.
Can I treat radiculopathy at home?
You may be able to find relief for your pinched nerve at home by trying one or a combination of the following:
- Over-the-counter pain medications
- Changing your posture and/or adjusting how your body is positioned while you work
- Physical therapy
- Ice and heat packs
- Elevating your legs
- Losing weight
- Engaging in low-impact exercise like walking, yoga, biking, or swimming