Radiculopathy refers to any condition that affects the nerve roots as they leave the spine. The most common cause of radiculopathy is compression which results in inflammation of the nerve roots. Compression may be from a herniated disc, narrowing of the spinal canal or cysts from the joints of the spine. Although relatively rare, there are several other potential causes of radiculopathy such as infection of the nerve roots, rheumatologic diseases, and vascular or neurologic diseases.
Risk factors for back problems that lead to radiculopathy are numerous, but most of them are modifiable. Frequent lifting and twisting motions, heavy work load, driving occupations, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and smoking all put people at risk for radiculopathy. The risk factors we don’t have control over include back trauma, gender, taller height and multiple pregnancies. (Yes, technically that last one is modifiable, but most people like their children so I’ll let it slide.) The modifiable risk factors also are indicators of patients who may have a poor recovery.
Symptoms of radiculopathy are nerve-related. Pain is common and can radiate down the arm or leg. There can also be loss of sensation or altered sensations such as tingling, pins and needs, or burning. Muscle weakness may also occur in some individuals along with changes to normal reflex patterns.
Depending on the cause of the radiculopathy, patients usually get better over a matter of weeks and can be treated conservatively – without surgery. In addition to exercises and/or medications, I also address activity and lifestyle modification in order to improve recovery and prevent reoccurrence of the symptoms. For individuals who have ongoing pain and dysfunction after three weeks, I perform nerve testing. It is a two part test: 1) nerve conduction studies [NCS] and 2) electromyography [EMG]. The nerve testing allows me to tell which nerves are affected, how much they are affected and if there is ongoing nerve damage.
If you experience symptoms of radiculopathy, it is best to seek medical attention right away. The sooner I can diagnose the cause and start treatment, the more likely you are to have a good recovery. Delay in treatment can lead to delayed recovery and in some cases chronic pain and disability. Don’t let that happen to you. If you are in the Pensacola, Florida area please contact my office to schedule an appointment. Outside of Pensacola, you can find a physiatrist close to you by clicking on the link to the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation website.