Understanding Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy, sometimes referred to as a pinched nerve, is a condition of the nerve roots that can result in muscle weakness, radiating pain, and numbness. A particular type of radicular pain known as sciatica can occur when the spinal nerve roots of the lower spine are compressed or become inflamed and irritated. Sciatic pain typically radiates down the back of the leg and can extend as far as the calf or foot. Although radiculopathy involving the lower back is most common, it can also occur in the cervical or thoracic portion of the spine.

What Causes Radiculopathy?

Radicular pain can occur when there is a dysfunction involving a single spinal nerve that serves a specific area in the leg. The patient may experience pain when making certain movements or standing or sitting in certain positions. The most common source of radicular pain is a compression of the spinal nerves. Other potential causes include:

  • traumatic injury to the nerve roots,
  • a disc herniation that compresses the nerve,
  • nerve inflammation,
  • lower back injuries,
  • scar tissue that impinges on the spinal nerves, and
  • nerve damage caused by diabetes.

Radiculopathy Risk Factors:

Individuals who work in occupations or participate in sports that place repeated or excessive stress on the spine are more susceptible to developing radiculopathy than those who are more sedentary.

How Is Radiculopathy Diagnosed?

A patient’s symptoms and medical history typically lead to a diagnosis of radicular pain. Imaging tests, such as an MRI, may be used to confirm the diagnosis and identify the affected nerves and the underlying cause.

How Is Radiculopathy Treated?

Most patients find that their symptoms improve within a few weeks to months with conservative treatments, including medications, rest, and physical therapy. If these measures do not alleviate the pain, the next step is typically steroid injections in the affected area. Injectable steroids help to reduce the nerve irritation and inflammation and can reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Severe radicular pain that does not respond to conservative measures may require surgery to relieve the pressure on the affected nerve. The most common surgeries for radiculopathy are a laminectomy or a discectomy. A laminectomy relieves pressure on the nerve roots by removing a portion of the bone that covers the nerve. A discectomy is performed to remove the portion of a herniated disc that is impinging on a spinal nerve.

Dr. Epstein can help you on your journey toward a life free from back pain. Dr. Epstein is board-certified in both neurosurgery and pain management and will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan. Call today to schedule a consultation.