Radiculopathy is a term that is used to describe symptoms caused by a pinched nerve in your spine. The nerve root, nerve that branches from the spinal cord and leaves the spine to the body, is usually affected. When it occurs in your leg, it is commonly called “sciatica.” Radiculopathy may cause pain, numbness and tingling, or weakness in your arm or leg.
Common Symptoms of Radiculopathy
The pain associated with radiculopathy is called radicular pain. Radicular pain radiates along the area supplied by the irritated nerve root. The pain will vary depending on what part of the spine the compressed nerve originates:
- Cervical radiculopathy (neck) – pain, weakness or numbness, in shoulder and/or arm
- Thoracic radiculopathy (upper/mid back) – rarest location for radiculopathy, where pain starts in the mid back that travels around the chest or abdomen.
- Lumbar radiculopathy (lower back) – pain, weakness, or numbness that starts in the lower back and travels through the buttock and down the back of the leg (also known as sciatica)
Diagnosis of Radiculopathy
Typically, radiculopathy can be diagnosed through a medical exam. Sometimes further tests are required to determine the cause of radiculopathy. These tests include:
- X-ray – imaging from X-rays can be used to see any bone abnormalities or spinal dislocation that may be causing radiculopathy
- MRI scan – clearly shows the relationships of soft tissues (discs, spinal cord, and nerves). Imaging of choice to diagnosis a radiculopathy.
- CT scan – uses x-ray images and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the spine and surrounding structures
- CT plus myelogram – injects a dye into the spinal canal to measure nerve compression through CT imaging
Treatment Options for Radiculopathy
Many forms of radiculopathy will respond to nonoperative treatment like physical therapy and medication. When surgery is required, treatment will vary based on the cause of the radiculopathy.
- Herniated disc – treated with cervical or lumbar microdiscectomy
- Spinal stenosis – treated with decompression surgery