What is Radiculopathy?
The spinal cord sends nerves to all parts of the body. The part of the nerve that connects the body to the spinal cord is the nerve root. If the nerve root is pinched or injured, pain, weakness, numbness and tingling may be felt in the part of the body served by that nerve root. The medical term for such nerve root irritation is radiculopathy. Lumbar radiculopathy refers to irritation of a nerve root in the low back causing painful symptoms in the legs. The painful leg symptoms are also known as Sciatica. Cervical radiculopathy describes irritation of a nerve root in the neck leading to painful symptoms in the arms.
What are the causes?
Several conditions can develop in the spine that can irritate the nerve roots. The intervertebral disc may rupture, and press on the nerve root causing radicular pain. This condition is called disc herniation, and may be due to the normal aging process, or a traumatic injury.
The disc may degenerate and weaken, leading to bone spur formation, which may pinch the nerve roots exiting at that level. This condition is called degenerative disc disease, and may be due to the normal aging process or a traumatic injury.
The bones and ligaments that make up the spinal canal may grow inward, pinching the nerve roots. This condition is called spinal stenosis, and may be due to the normal aging process.
What are the symptoms?
If a nerve is pinched in the lumbar (lower) spine, it may cause back pain radiating into the buttock, leg and foot. A pinched nerve in the cervical (upper) spine, can cause neck pain radiating into the shoulder, arm, and hand. Burning, numbness and tingling in the arms or legs may be felt as well. If there is severe nerve root irritation, weakness may develop in the muscles that are served by that nerve.
What treatments are available?
Treatment options may include anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications, physical therapy, and epidural steroid injections. Most people will get prolonged relief from these treatments. If the pain persists, surgery may be needed to decompress the nerve root.