Many types of conditions cause back pain: sciatica, scoliosis, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and herniated disc – and then there’s radiculopathy, which can occur with any of these conditions. Commonly referred to as a pinched nerve, radiculopathy can lead to a variety of unpleasant symptoms in addition to pain, including weakness and numbness.
To fully understand what radiculopathy is, a brief lesson in spinal anatomy is helpful.
How the Spine Functions
The human spine is a stacked structure made up of 33 bones or vertebrae. These bones protect the spinal cord from injury or trauma. They also allow you various positions and movements, such as remaining upright, bending, and twisting. The bones are held in place by a complex system of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, while nerves extend from the spine to other areas of your body, including the arms and legs.
The spine naturally curves, forward and backward in a soft S-shape, in three places, which is vital for spinal health. These three curves – cervical, thoracic, and lumbar – are responsible for shock absorption, balance, and a range of movements. Each vertebra in your spine is cushioned from the next by an intervertebral disc, which prevents the vertebrae from rubbing against each other.
Causes of Radiculopathy
If you have certain back conditions or sustain an injury, the intervertebral discs can become damaged and compressed, causing pressure or irritation on an adjacent nerve root. Pain, weakness or numbness can occur in various locations of your body, depending on which nerve is affected. Some of the conditions that cause radiculopathy include:
- Poor posture or lifting technique
- Herniated disc that protrudes and compresses the nerve root
- Degenerative disc disease
- Bone spurs
- Tumor of the spine
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Scoliosis (abnormal lateral curvature of the spine)
- Being overweight
Types of Radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve in your neck or upper back is compressed – resulting in pain in the neck, shoulder, upper back or arm, and/or weakness typically on one side.
Thoracic radiculopathy affects the chest and torso, resulting in burning or shooting pain, numbness, and tingling in the rib, side, or abdomen.
Lumbar radiculopathy causes sharp pain and numbness in the lower back, hips, buttock, leg, or foot. This is also known as sciatica.
Diagnosis and Treatment
More often than not, radiculopathy can be treated without surgery. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may recommend pain medication in the form of nonsteroidal drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen), oral corticosteroids or injectable steroid, a cervical collar, cold and hot compression, or physical therapy.
If surgery is necessary, procedures may include repairing a herniated disc, widening the spinal canal, removing a bone spur, or fusing the affected bones.Expert Back Treatment in Colorado
STAR Spine & Sport specializes in a variety of non-invasive and surgical treatments for both chronic and acute back conditions. Let us help alleviate your pain.
For more information and to schedule a consultation, call (303) 238-4277, or request an appointment using our online form.