Radiculopathy is a condition that occurs when a nerve in the spine becomes pinched or compressed. While it can occur anywhere in the spine, it's more likely to occur in the neck (cervical radiculopathy) or lower back (lumbar radiculopathy). Thoracic radiculopathy in the mid back region is less common since this portion of the back is more stable and less likely to be subjected to the same degree of stress and torsion as the neck and lower back.
The most common causes of radiculopathy include:
Cervical radiculopathy occurs in the neck portion of the spine, causing symptoms in the neck, shoulders, arms and fingers. Symptoms can include:
Symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy are similar to those experienced with cervical radiculopathy – pain, weakness, numbness and tingling sensations – except they affect the lower back, hips, buttocks, legs and feet.
Diagnosis begins with a physical examination to evaluate the range of motion, strength, reflexes and other factors affected by radiculopathy. Diagnostic imaging tests like x-ray, CT scans or MRIs may also be performed. In some cases, nerve conduction studies may be ordered to pinpoint the specific location of nerve involvement and to confirm the diagnosis of radiculopathy.
Often, radiculopathy will resolve on its own with rest and therapeutic exercise. Oral medication and injections at the site of compression can help relieve pain and swelling to promote symptom resolution. In more severe cases where conservative approaches are not effective in achieving relief, surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure on the nerve.
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