Radiculopathy

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Radiculopathy refers to a pinched nerve in the spine. There are two kinds of radiculopathy: cervical (myelopathy) and lumbar radiculopathy. Both types of radiculopathy can lead to painful and uncomfortable symptoms.

At OrthoAspen our spine specialists work with patients to find a safe and effective treatment method to address cervical and lumbar radiculopathy. It’s our goal to ensure that the symptoms of any spine condition don’t disrupt the active lifestyles our patients enjoy.

Types, Causes & Symptoms

The spine is made up of bony segments called vertebrae and fibrous tissue called intervertebral discs. Herniated disc (disc protrusion) is a condition caused by a tear in an intervertebral disc resulting in the disc contents to bulge out.

Herniated discs in the cervical or neck area, places pressure on nerve roots (nerve root compression) or the spinal cord causing radiculopathy. Cervical radiculopathy is a medical term used to describe the neurological deficits that can occur from pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.

Conditions that can cause cervical radiculopathy include:

  • Degenerative Disc Disease
    A condition caused by wear and tear on the discs between the vertebrae causing them to lose their cushioning ability.
  • Spinal Stenosis
    Narrowing of the spinal canal as we age, most commonly due to degenerative arthritis.
  • Degenerative Spondylolisthesis
    This condition is degeneration (wear and tear) of the vertebral components, usually occurring after age 50, causing slippage of a vertebra onto another, leading to spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal.

To understand lumbar radiculopathy, it’s important to have a limited understanding of spinal anatomy. The spine consists of 33 vertebral bones stacked one on top of the other. Cushioning discs are embedded between each vertebra. The lumbar region of the spine (below the rib cage) consists of five vertebrae. Nerves of the spinal cord in this region communicate with the lower body through spaces between the vertebrae.

Trauma to the spine, age and overuse can result in deterioration of the vertebral bones and joints or bulging of the discs. The resultant loss of space can lead to compression of the spinal nerve roots. Depending on the area being supplied by the nerve, symptoms are experienced in the lower extremities. Lumbar radiculopathy often results in lower back pain and can be extremely debilitating, interfering with daily activities.

Cervical radiculopathy symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness or weakness in the shoulder, arm, wrist or hand
  • Problems manipulating small objects and disruption of a normal gait

Lumbar radiculopathy symptoms include:

  • Pain that is sharp or burning and travels down one leg
  • Numbness, tingling and muscle weakness
  • Leg pain without back pain
Diagnosis

To properly diagnose cervical radiculopathy, your OrthoAspen doctor will go over your medical history and perform a physical examination. Diagnostic tests such as spine X-rays, MRI or CT scans may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out any other conditions with similar symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest electromyography and nerve conduction studies to diagnose cervical radiculopathy.

The diagnosis of lumbar radiculopathy consists of an assessment of symptoms, evaluation of medical history and a physical examination. If pain originates in the spine, it usually follows a specific pattern of distribution that your doctor identifies and correlates with a particular spinal level or nerve root. Imaging studies are performed to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

When addressing a cervical radiculopathy diagnosis, your OrthoAspen doctor will implement conservative treatments whenever possible.

When conservative treatment measures such as rest, medication, physical therapy and pain-blocking injections are ineffective, your surgeon may recommend spine surgery.

The most common spine surgery to relieve symptoms of nerve root compression involves removing the disc and fusing the two vertebrae above and below with a bone graft.

A newer treatment option allows the replacement of the herniated disc with an artificial disc. Artificial discs are used in place of a bone fusion to preserve neck movement and flexibility.

A decompressive laminectomy and fusion is a common surgery for treating patients with cervical radiculopathy. It’s a surgical procedure in which a portion of the bone or lamina causing pressure on the nerves is removed. In spinal fusion, a piece of bone, taken from elsewhere in the body is transplanted between the adjacent spinal bones (vertebrae). As healing occurs, the bone fuses with the spine.

Most cases of lumbar radiculopathy are transient and can be treated with conservative methods, which include:

  • Rest
  • Activity limitation
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Spinal manipulation
  • Spinal injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercises and other modalities

A specific treatment plan is formulated to effectively relieve your symptoms and ensure a return to your regular activities. If symptoms are severe or persistent, surgery may be recommended.

No matter what treatment is recommended for radiculopathy, the OrthoAspen team will do everything possible to ensure a safe and effective recovery.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation, or call us at 970-544-1289.

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Visit OrthoAspen in two convenient locations
Aspen Clinic
Aspen Valley Hospital
0401 Castle Creek Rd., Suite 2100,

Aspen, CO 81611
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1110
Basalt Clinic
Midvalley Medical Center
1450 E. Valley Rd., Suite 201,

Basalt, CO 81621
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1110