Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for Radiculopathy

representation of pinched nerve and pain in neck of upper back

The term “radiculopathy” is used to describe unpleasant symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, or pain, that result from a pinched nerve in the spine. Pinching can occur anywhere in the spine but is most common in the Cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions. These symptoms, and others, may be further diagnosed and treated by the experts at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics.

Interestingly, symptoms of radiculopathy are not always felt at the location where the nerve root is pinched. Rather, symptoms are typically felt far away from this location, along the distal pathway of the nerve. Consequently, cervical radiculopathy is experienced as shoulder, arm, or hand discomfort, as these are the areas where cervical nerves travel and innervate. Similarly, lumbar radiculopathy is experienced as buttock, leg, or foot discomfort. Lumbar radiculopathy that occurs down the back of the buttock and leg is frequently called sciatica. In severe cases radiculopathy will involve symptoms other than pain such as weakness of the leg or arm muscles.

How is Radiculopathy Caused?

The most common cause of radiculopathy is spondylosis from wear and tear, often called arthritis, of the joints, discs, vertebral bones, and ligaments of the spine or from trauma. When these causes occur, bones lose their alignment, become brittle and develop bone spurs. This leads to pressure on nearby nerves that travel within the spine. Approximately 2-5% of the general population will experience radiculopathy symptoms at some point. However, certain individuals are at higher risk. Risk factors include advanced arthritis in the spine, family history, tobacco use, trauma (car collision sports, work related accidents), heavy labor, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Most cases of radiculopathy are not severe and are self-limited. Symptoms will usually resolve by 6 to 8 weeks. Unfortunately, patients who have experienced radiculopathy once are very likely to experience symptoms again unless certain preventive measures are taken. Usually, this means eliminating risk factors such as obesity and tobacco use, engaging in routine and frequent core exercises, and observing proper postural techniques at all times.

How Is Radiculopathy Treated?

When treatment is required, it is crucially important to seek the help of experienced, qualified spine specialists who prioritize conservative care over surgical intervention. These specialists must understand the complexities of diagnosing spine conditions, especially because very few of a patient’s complaints can be measured. Unlike temperature or blood pressure, which have upper and lower limits that can be measured and treated, pain from radiculopathy is extremely subjective. To further complicate matters, the diagnosis of radiculopathy cannot be made from X-rays or MRIs alone. Indeed, most adults have abnormal findings on MRI but the symptoms must match the abnormalities to secure effective treatment.

A spine specialist evaluating radiculopathy must be willing to spend a great deal of time listening to the patient in order to gather clues about where the pain is coming from. The pain management doctor, physiatrist, neurosurgeon or orthopedic spine doctor must also ask a lot of questions: Where is the pain located and where does it travel? What type of pain is it? What brings on the pain? What positions feel better? Finally, he or she must conduct a detailed physical and neurological examination. It is only then that the spine specialist can make sense of the cause of symptoms from a complicated MRI with many possible abnormal findings.

Up to 95% of radiculopathy patients will return to normal activity without surgery. The body has a remarkable capacity for healing, and the role of a spine specialist is to guide the patient through this process quickly and prevent future recurrences of symptoms.

However, for the rare patients who do need injections or surgery to regain normal function, the spine specialists must have a broad range of skills and a proven record of technical mastery to assure optimal results. Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine, and Orthopedics have the best spine specialists in the field located in New Jersey.

NJ’s Only Comprehensive, Multidisciplinary Facility to Alleviate Radiculopathy

The dedicated surgical and non-surgical team at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine, and Orthopedics (CNSO) understands how neck, back, and radiculopathy problems can impact daily life. By working with leading board-certified neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists, patients will receive comprehensive and coordinated care, so they can resume a healthy, less painful lifestyle free from disability. CNSO offers multiple convenient locations spanning across northern New Jersey, including Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Morris, and Hudson counties. Northern NJ patients can learn more about effectively treating radiculopathy pain by contacting the doctors at CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics