Radiculopathy: What it Is, How it Happens, and How to Live With It
September 13, 2023
Radiculopathy is a painful condition that can significantly impact your daily life. It occurs when a nerve in the spine becomes pinched or compressed. Depending on where the nerve is being pinched, you can experience pain or numbness in your neck, back, lower back, or even legs. This can lead to a range of distressing symptoms, from acute pain to numbness and weakness.
In this blog, follow along as we dive into the details of radiculopathy, from what it is and how it feels to what treatment options exist for anyone suffering from it.
What is Radiculopathy?
The nerves in the spine are responsible for transmitting signals to and from your arms, legs, back to your brain. This is what allows you to feel and move your limbs, such as when you reach out widely (as in the case of swimming), walk or run, or simply bend over to pick something up. Radiculopathy is a condition characterized by the pinching or compression of these nerves, resulting in pain or weakness, and in some cases debilitating conditions.
What Does Radiculopathy Feel Like?
Radiculopathy can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in your neck, shoulders, arms, and/or hands. Because the nerves that extend from your spinal cord travel to different parts of the body, you can actually experience different sensations depending on where exactly your pinched nerve is located. While neck pain and shoulder pain are common with those with cervical (neck) radiculopathy, those with thoracic (upper back) radiculopathy may experience a burning or shooting like pain in the rib, side, or abdomen. Moreover, the intensity of the pain might vary with certain activities, such as sitting, walking, coughing, or sneezing. The condition Sciatica refers specifically to Radiculopathy of the sciatic nerve which causes pain to the lower back and legs.
How Does Radiculopathy Happen?
Radiculopathy can occur due to several underlying causes:
Disc Herniation: One of the most common causes of radiculopathy is a Herniated Disc. The discs act as cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. When a disc herniates, the inner gel-like material protrudes and can press against nearby nerve roots, causing pain and discomfort.
Arthritis: Arthritis or degenerative joint disease in the neck, can lead to the narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing can put pressure on the nerve roots, resulting in radiculopathy-like symptoms.
Trauma: Accidents or injuries, such as Whiplash from a car collision or a sports-related injury, can damage the spine and lead to nerve compression, causing radiculopathy to occur.
Spinal Stenosis: Spinal Stenosis, a condition caused by the narrowing in the spinal canal, can often compress the nerves in your spine, causing radiculopathy.
Spondylolisthesis: Spondylolisthesis is a condition where one of the vertebrae in your back slips out of place. Unfortunately, this can also cause the nearby nerve root to become compressed, resulting in radiculopathy.
How to Live With Radiculopathy
Living with radiculopathy can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be enduring. If your struggling with what you think might be radiculopathy, consider taking the following steps to ease your discomfort:
Seek A Medical Evaluation: If you suspect you have radiculopathy, getting an accurate medical evaluation from a professional is essential. A professional pain doctor can diagnose your condition by assessing your medical history and physical health, as well as conducting imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans.
Understand Your Symptoms: Radiculopathy can manifest as a variety of symptoms, including neck pain, back pain, radiating arm pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and muscle spasms. Understanding your specific symptoms can help you identify what’s causing them and help you determine the best approach for treatment.
Explore Conservative Treatments: In many cases, radiculopathy can be effectively managed through conservative treatments. These may include rest, ice, physical therapy, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and inflammation. Talk to your doctor to determine the best course of action for your specific condition.
Treatment Options for Radiculopathy
While living with radiculopathy can be challenging, there are treatments available to alleviate your symptoms. Here’s how we treat radiculopathy at our pain clinic in Austin:
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with radiculopathy. Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter or prescription-strength NSAIDs based on the severity of your symptoms.
Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is a valuable component for treating a variety of conditions that cause chronic pain, including Radiculopathy. A skilled physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to strengthen the neck, back, and shoulder muscles, improve posture, and enhance overall mobility.
Bracing: In some cases, wearing a brace or collar may be beneficial. These devices can provide support for your neck, reduce motion, and alleviate pressure on the affected nerve root.
Epidural Steroid Injections: Epidural steroid injections are specialized injections that target the specific nerve root that’s causing your symptoms. By delivering corticosteroids directly to the nerve root, epidural steroid injections can reduce inflammation and help relieve pain in a specific area.
Get Radiculopathy Treatment in Austin!
If you're struggling with radiculopathy symptoms in Austin, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Our experienced team of pain doctors and healthcare professionals specialize in diagnosing and treating painful conditions like radiculopathy, can offer a range of advanced treatments, including epidural steroid injections, to provide you with effective relief. Remember: living with radiculopathy can be painful, but with the right medical care, you can regain control over your life and minimize its impact on you.
Don't let radiculopathy hold you back! Make an appointment at the Greater Austin Pain Center to take the first step toward a pain-free future!