Radiculopathy is a relatively common type of pain that happens when a nerve in or near the spine is compressed. Without treatment, radiculopathy can become debilitating, and it can even lead to permanent nerve damage and disability.
Learning to recognize radiculopathy’s symptoms is important for making sure you get treatment right away. In this post, David Berkower, DO, of Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation in Pembroke Pines, Florida, reviews some of the common symptoms of radiculopathy, so you can get the care you need as quickly as possible.
The basics of radiculopathy
Radiculopathy is a painful condition that happens when a nerve is pinched where it exits your spine. Normally, your nerves leave your spine through small openings before traveling to every other part of your body. If a nerve gets compressed or irritated at or near these openings, it can cause a variety of painful symptoms.
Radiculopathy can happen for different reasons, but some of the most common include:
- Herniated discs, often from a fall or other accident
- Disc degeneration
- Bone spurs
- Spinal stenosis
Sometimes, the cause can’t be determined.
In addition, there are risk factors that could make you more prone to suffering radiculopathy. These include:
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Being at an older age
- Being overweight or obese
- Heavy lifting
People with diabetes may also be at an increased risk of having radiculopathy.
Because radiculopathy involves your nerves, you can have pain anywhere along the nerve pathway, as well as around the root of the affected nerve near your spine. In fact, the word “radiculopathy” comes from the Greek word “radix,” which means root.
The symptoms you have will depend in large part on what part of the spine the compressed or irritated nerve emerges from. The nerve could emerge from the cervical, lumbar, or thoracic regions of the spine.
The cervical spine is the uppermost part of your spine, including your neck. Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy include:
- Neck pain
- Pain or numbness radiating into the arms, shoulders, or hands
- Muscle weakness in the arms
- Problems coordinating finger movements
Whiplash is one cause of cervical radiculopathy, but it can happen for other reasons, too.
Lumbar radiculopathy happens in the lower back, and when it involves the long sciatic nerve that travels down each leg, it’s known as sciatica. As many as 5% of Americans have this type of radiculopathy, which tends to become more common during middle age.
If you have lumbar radiculopathy, you may have any of the following symptoms:
- Lower back pain
- Pain and numbness in your buttocks, hips, or legs
- Pins-and-needles sensations or electricity-like bursts of pain in these areas
- Difficulty with coordinating movements, such as walking
- Numbness or weakness in one or both feet
Typically, these symptoms involve one leg, but sometimes, both legs can be involved. In severe cases, you may have problems with bladder or bowel control, as well.
Your thoracic spine includes the middle part of your back. Symptoms include:
- Pain or burning sensations in your chest, side, or belly
- Numbness or tingling in these areas
Because your thoracic spine is not as flexible as the upper or lower parts of your spine, thoracic radiculopathy is not as common as the other two types. It may be confused for other problems, such as gallstones or problems involving your belly or heart.
Treating radiculopathy begins with an examination to determine the cause of your nerve compression. For very mild symptoms related to temporary causes, such as a day of heavy lifting, for instance, Dr. Berkower may recommend ice and heat therapy combined with activity modification, stretching, and over-the-counter medicines to relieve pain and inflammation.
For more serious nerve compression problems, physical therapy or minimally invasive treatments might provide a better solution. Before recommending treatment, Dr. Berkower prescribes imaging tests to determine the extent of nerve involvement and to map out the best treatment plan to help you find relief.
If you have back or neck pain with or without radiating symptoms, scheduling an evaluation is the first step to feeling better and preventing problems from getting worse. To learn how we can help, call 954-430-9972 or book an appointment online with Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation today.