Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve)

Has a twist ending to a great time led to a pinched nerve in your back or neck? It happens, especially if you're active. But you don't let pain from a pinched nerve slow you down, or stay in the dark as to what the pain in your spine might mean long term for your mobility. For accurate diagnosis and the innovative, next-generation approaches that lead to real and lasting healing, trust California's leader for the back, neck and spine. Trust Hoag. At Hoag Spine Institute, we see you as more than your condition, and we've got the tools, talent and technology to help you heal.

Need Life-Changing Radiculopathy Treatment? Orange County Turns to Hoag for Advanced Spinal Care.

Spinal conditions like radiculopathy — commonly referred to as a pinched nerve in the spine — can significantly impact your quality of life. At Orange County’s Hoag Spine Institute, we understand the complex nature of spinal health, and are dedicated to providing world-class, personalized spine care for every patient.

Our Institute stands at the forefront of spinal treatment, offering innovative solutions and support every step of the way. If you’re experiencing the debilitating effects of radiculopathy or other spinal conditions, Hoag Spine Institute has the tools, tech and world-class experts to help you heal. Our nationally-recognized team of spine specialists employs a comprehensive approach to diagnosis and care, prioritizing conservative non-surgical treatment methods before considering options like minimally-invasive spine surgery.

We’re committed to restoring lives that are hindered by radiculopathy. Trust the Hoag Spine Institute to help you return to the activities you love with confidence. Contact us today at 949-764-1411 or through our online form.

Read on for everything you need to know about radiculopathy from Hoag, including types, key terms and more.

What is Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve Root)?

Radiculopathy, commonly referred to as a “pinched nerve”, refers to a medical condition where there is irritation, compression, or inflammation of the spinal nerve roots, often resulting in pain, weakness, numbness or tingling that radiates along the path of the affected nerve.

Pain associated with radiculopathy can severely impact a patient’s quality of life and, in some cases, can lead to muscle atrophy.

About the Spine and Nerve Roots

The spine provides the body with structural support while also providing a remarkable amount of flexibility. The spine is made up of bones known as vertebrae, which are sandwiched between gel-like, cushioning pads known as intervertebral discs. Together with muscles and tendons, these structures form what’s called the spinal column — commonly referred to as “the back.”

While the spine promotes an upright posture, it also serves as a protective sheath for the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a network of nerves that run through a hollow space in the spine called the spinal canal. The spinal cord serves as an informational highway between the brain and the rest of the body, sending nerve impulses back and forth to help the body function. Nerve roots exit from the spine, transmitting nerve impulses from the spine to the muscles of the body.

Sometimes, people can experience what’s known as nerve compression, in which one of the roots of the spinal nerves has too much pressure put on it by issues like herniated discs or bone spurs. That can result in severe pain, and the condition known as radiculopathy, or a pinched nerve root.

In order for your doctor to diagnose radiculopathy, he or she may perform a physical examination and order tests like an MRI, CT scan or nerve conduction study. Treatment for radiculopathy care typically begins with nonsurgical treatment, like physical therapy, or a series of epidural steroid injections to relieve nerve root inflammation. However, in severe cases, surgical procedures may be necessary in order to relieve pain and restore muscle strength.

What are the Different Types of Radiculopathy?

The spine is divided into three sections: the cervical spine (the neck), the thoracic spine (the 12 vertebrae in the middle section of the spine) and the lumbar spine (the lower back).

The type of radiculopathy a person has depends on where the compressed nerve root is in the spine. Different types of radiculopathy include:

Cervical Radiculopathy

The cervical spine is the neck region of the spine, extending from the base of the skull to the shoulders. Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve root within the first seven vertebrae becomes compressed.

The nerves within the cervical spine extend out to the shoulders, arms, chest and upper back. As such, the pain or numbness caused by cervical radiculopathy usually radiates from the neck to one or more of these body parts.

Thoracic Radiculopathy

The thoracic spine is the area of the spine in the upper back region, extending from the base of the neck to the bottom of the ribcage. The thoracic spine is the longest section of the spine, made up of twelve vertebrae.

Thoracic radiculopathy occurs when a nerve root within the thoracic spine becomes compressed. Though this type of radiculopathy is uncommon compared to the other types, it can cause chest or abdominal pain which wraps around to the front of the body.

Lumbar Radiculopathy

The lumbar spine is typically made up of the final five vertebrae of the spine, extending from the bottom of the ribcage to the pelvis. The vertebrae found here are the thickest in the spine, responsible for supporting most of the body’s weight.

Lumbar radiculopathy, also known as lumbosacral radiculopathy, is the most common form of radiculopathy, occurring when a nerve root within the lumbar region becomes compressed. Forms of acute lumbar radiculopathy include sciatica, which occurs when the sciatic nerves are inflamed.

What Causes Radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy mainly occurs due to alterations in the tissues that make up the spine, such as the spinal vertebrae or intervertebral discs, which are close to the nerve roots.

Displacement or changes in the size of these tissues can exert pressure on the nerve root, causing discomfort, numbness and pain. Issues that can cause radiculopathy include:

Disc Herniation

An intervertebral disc is the soft, cushioning pad between each of the bony vertebrae of the spine. At times, these discs can slip out of place or become damaged, creating a bulge — a condition known as a herniated disc.

In some cases, these bulging discs can press onto the spinal nerve roots, bringing about radiculopathy and all of the radicular symptoms associated with it, including severe pain, numbness or even weakness.

Bone Spurs

Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes, are abnormal, bony growths that can form in the joints or within the vertebrae surrounding the spinal cord.

While bone spurs are typically asymptomatic, meaning they don’t cause symptoms exist, bone spurs within the spine can create a pinched nerve. Bone spurs within the spine can occur due to trauma, genetics or osteoarthritis, a condition which can cause degenerative changes within the spine.

Spinal Stenosis

The spinal canal is a tunnel-like space that runs down the spine. The spinal cord, with all of its associated nerves, runs through this hollow space. In some cases, the bones which make up the spine can thicken, shrinking the diameter of the spinal canal. That can place pressure onto the spinal cord and cause nerve root compression, leading to radiculopathy.

Diseases That Affect the Spinal Nerve Root

As with any other part of the body, the spine can potentially become infected by bacteria or fungal organisms. This is especially true in the aftermath of certain invasive surgical procedures, which can potentially introduce sources of infection into the vertebrae, intervertebral discs, the spinal canal or adjacent soft tissues. These infections can trigger inflammation, which in turn can cause pressure on the nerve roots.

Another condition that can potentially trigger radiculopathy are both cancerous and noncancerous tumors. A tumor is a mass of tissue made up of abnormal cells. Tumors can grow within the spinal column, pressing against the nerve roots and potentially causing radiculopathy.

What are the Symptoms of Radiculopathy?

The symptoms of radiculopathy vary depending on the location of the affected nerve root. Symptoms of radiculopathy differ depending on whether the affected nerve root is in the cervical spine, the lumbar spine or the thoracic spine.

Cervical Radiculopathy Symptoms

In cases of cervical radiculopathy, symptoms can include:

  • Pain, numbness or muscle weakness in the arms, shoulders, chest or upper back.
  • Sharp or burning neck pain.
  • Paresthesia: A numb, tingling, burning, pricking or itching sensation on or just underneath the skin of the arms.
Lumbar Radiculopathy Symptoms

In cases of lumbar radiculopathy, symptoms can include:

  • Pain, numbness or muscle weakness within the legs, radiating down through the calf, thigh and foot.
  • Sharp or burning low back pain.
  • Paresthesia: A numb, tingling, burning, pricking or itching sensation on or just underneath the skin of the arms.
Thoracic Radiculopathy Symptoms

In cases of thoracic radiculopathy, symptoms can include:

  • Burning or shooting pain in the ribs, side or abdomen.
  • Numbness and tingling in the torso.

Especially severe cases of lumbar, thoracic or cervical radiculopathy can cause other symptoms. This can include a deterioration in a person’s motor reflexes, which are the automatic, involuntary actions of the body in response to stimuli. Also, a person’s muscles can atrophy, meaning that they decrease in size or “waste away.”

Can Radiculopathy Cause Any Serious Complications?

Radiculopathy carries the risk of permanent nerve damage within the affected nerve roots. This can cause a variety of long-term symptoms in the area of the body the nerve root feeds. These symptoms can include muscle twitches (fasciculation), muscle weakness, muscle atrophy or numbness.

Radiculopathy can cause chronic pain, which is pain that persists over a prolonged period of time. In addition to physical issues like mobility challenges, having chronic pain can cause a range of psychological effects, including depression.

If left untreated, radiculopathy can cause persistent weakness within the muscles, or a loss of sensation in the muscles. In severe cases, these symptoms can last for months or even years.

This persistent, chronic weakness and pain can have a severe impact on a patient’s quality of life, preventing them from engaging in physical activities. Because of this, radiculopathy is also a risk factor for complications such as diabetes and obesity. These complications carry their own health risks.

Who is Most at Risk to Develop Radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy has a variety of risk factors, including:

  • Having a medical history of spinal issues.
  • Obesity, or other medical conditions which put increased strain upon the spine.
  • Acute injuries, such as falls, car accidents, or sports-related injuries, can damage spinal structures and lead to radiculopathy. Trauma may cause fractures, dislocations, or soft tissue injuries that result in nerve compression or irritation.
  • Genetic Factors: Some individuals may inherit genetic predispositions that affect the structure and integrity of spinal discs and joints, making them more susceptible to radiculopathy.
  • Old age.

However, certain lifestyle habits can also be risk factors for radiculopathy. These include:

  • Smoking tobacco.
  • Activities that involve repetitive or heavy lifting, twisting motions.
  • Jobs that involve prolonged sitting or standing can strain the spine and increase the risk of radiculopathy. Examples include construction work, heavy lifting jobs, and occupations that involve long hours of driving.

Are There Any Ways to Reduce My Risk of Developing Radiculopathy?

While there’s no known way to prevent a person from developing radiculopathy, there are certain steps most people can take to reduce the risk of developing radiculopathy.

These include:

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Radiculopathy and back pain generally occur due to excess weight. In those who are overweight or obese, the spine is forced to compensate for the additional weight, putting additional strain on the vertebrae and intervertebral discs. That can lead to spinal issues, including radiculopathy. Maintaining a healthy weight can be critical to heading off radiculopathy before it develops.

Practice Good Posture

Poor posture, especially when sitting at a desk, can put pressure on the spine over time. This pressure can eventually lead to conditions like herniated discs and radiculopathy. Raising your computer monitor on a riser or adjusting the tilt on your desk chair, can help prevent poor posture and the spine issues it can cause.

Minimize Occupational Hazards

Certain physical jobs, such as those in construction, involve the usage of heavy machinery, repetitive bending and twisting over prolonged periods of time and the lifting of heavy objects. All of these activities can lead to the development of radiculopathy. Using proper equipment, such as workplace-provided weight belts and practicing good form while lifting, can potentially prevent the development of radiculopathy and other forms of chronic back pain.

Use Proper Form During Physical Exercises

Intense physical exercise, such as powerlifting and bodybuilding, involve building strength and muscle through the repeated lifting of heavy weights. Not practicing proper form during these movements can lead to injuries which can progress into radiculopathy. Maintaining good posture and form during weightlifting exercises is critical for preventing injury.

Often, weightlifters do not know they are practicing bad form. This can be corrected by performing exercises in front of a mirror or recording oneself in order to analyze whether or not proper form is being employed. Having an experienced trainer or exercise partner watching or “spotting” as you exercise can also prevent the improper form that can cause these injuries.

Do You Need Spine Pain Relief in Orange County? The Hoag Spine Institute Has Your Back.

Those dealing with chronic back pain and radiculopathy due to issues like a herniated disc, sciatic nerve pain or radiculopathy know that these conditions can have a serious impact on your life, preventing you from doing what you want to do or enjoying the things you once loved.

But those in need of care for severe back pain in Orange County have a strong ally in the Hoag Spine Institute. Every day, our comprehensive team of spine specialists are setting Orange County’s gold standard for advanced, patient-focused care for the spine. At Hoag, we’re committed to personalized care for every person who seeks our help, using conservative approaches like physical therapy and epidural steroid injection to treat radiculopathy.

And for those whose pain doesn’t respond to nonsurgical treatment, Hoag is a leader in next-generation, less-invasive surgical procedures for the spine. That includes minimally-invasive spine surgery performed through tiny incisions, for less risk of infection, less blood loss and faster recovery times.

Are you living with radiculopathy pain in Newport Beach, Irvine, Corona Del Mar, Tustin or other communities across Orange County? Then you owe it to yourself to seek out the team that’s dedicated to your care every step of the way, wielding next-generation tools and techniques to help you heal.

To learn more about Hoag Spine Institute, or to schedule a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation with a Hoag spine care specialist, please contact us today at 949-764-1411 or through our online form.

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