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What is radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy is a pinched nerve in the spine. It occurs when surrounding bones, cartilage, muscle or tendons deteriorate or are injured. The trauma causes these tissues to change position so that they exert extra pressure on the nerve roots in the spinal cord. Types of radiculopathy are defined by the location of the compressed nerve.

  • Lumbar radiculopathy: pressure on the nerve root in the lower back
  • Cervical radiculopathy: pressure on the nerve root in the neck
  • Thoracic radiculopathy: pinched nerve in the middle portion of the spine

Radiculopathy may be caused by infection, obesity, pregnancy, diabetes, trauma, arthritis, the formation of an extra bone, or bone spur in the weak area.

Common symptoms

Symptoms of lumbar or cervical radiculopathy can include:

  • Sharp back pain that travels down to the foot. Pain may worsen from sitting or coughing
  • Pins and needles sensation or numbness of the skin in the leg or foot
  • Weakness and tingling in the back, neck, arm or leg
  • Loss of reflexes
  • Shoulder or arm pain

How are radiculopathies diagnosed?

Your physician will review your medical history and discuss your symptoms with you. You may be asked to perform certain movements to check how well your nerves and muscles are working. Imaging tests may be used to identify and diagnose your condition, including: X-rays, computed tomography (CT), electromyelography (EMG) or magnetic resonance image (MRI), which may include injecting a contrast material (dye) into your spinal canal to help show the problem area.

How are radiculopathies treated?

Treatment depends on many factors, most important of which is the type of problem you have. It may include nonsurgical or surgical approaches:

  • Treatment for radiculopathy usually starts with nonsurgical options such as soft collars, physical therapy, medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids and steroid medicine injections.
  • Surgical treatment varies and may include spinal fusion, disc replacement and laminoforaminotomy, sometimes called an open decompression, which is the removal of bone causing the compression. There are newly developed, less invasive alternatives that the care team can share with you.

Most people improve or fully recover from radiculopathies with nonsurgical treatment. The surgeons at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists can help you decide on the treatment that is best for you. They are trained in the latest treatments and techniques and are experienced in diagnosing and treating brain, spine and peripheral nerve disorders and disease. To make an appointment at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists, call 919-784-1410.