Radiculopathy

Neurosurgical Specialists of West County

Neurosurgeons located in Saint Louis, MO

The pain of conditions like sciatica can be caused by radiculopathy of the lumbar spine. The pain caused by radiculopathy of the cervical spine typically radiates from the neck into the arms. The physicians at Neurosurgical Specialists of West County in St. Louis, MO, are experts in assessing patients who have pain and dysfunction in their spine and limbs due to radiculopathy, and provide a range of effective treatment options to help relieve their symptoms. Call the practice today to schedule a consultation.

Radiculopathy Q & A

What is radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy is a condition in which the nerve roots that pass from your spinal cord through the vertebrae get pinched, trapped, or compressed:

Lumbar radiculopathy

Lumbar radiculopathy affects nerves in the lumbar vertebrae in your lower back and is often referred to as sciatica, as many nerve roots in the lumbar spine contribute and combine to become a sciatic nerve that runs in the back of the leg. Lumbar radiculopathy is the most common type of radiculopathy. Sometimes, pinched lumbar nerve roots in the upper levels (lumbar one to four) can cause pain in the anterior leg also.

Cervical radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy affects nerve roots in the cervical vertebrae in your neck, typically causing symptoms in your arms and hands.

Thoracic radiculopathy

Thoracic radiculopathy affects the nerve roots in the vertebrae of your upper back and is the least likely place to experience radiculopathy. The pain typically radiates around your chest in a narrow band.

What are the symptoms of radiculopathy?

Nerve roots that are pinched or compressed become inflamed, which causes symptoms such as:

  • Sharp pain that worsens when coughing or sneezing
  • Pain that worsens with certain movement
  • Weakness of the muscles that a particular nerve root supplies 
  • Numbness of the limbs

Where you experience these symptoms and their severity depends on which nerves are affected and how badly.

What causes radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy most often occurs because of changes in the vertebrae or the spinal discs that fit between them. These changes in the tissues surrounding the nerve roots cause narrowing of the space available for the nerves to travel through or exit the spine. These spaces are called the foramina, and the narrowing process is called foraminal stenosis.

The changes in the tissues surrounding the nerve roots that lead to foraminal stenosis are most often due to the effects of aging, when the vertebrae and discs start to degenerate, compress, and harden. Injuries and other conditions can also lead to foraminal stenosis and radiculopathy, including:

  • Herniated discs
  • Facet arthropathies
  • Bone spurs
  • Synovial cysts
  • Ossification (thickening) of the spinal ligaments
  • Spinal infections
  • Cancerous and noncancerous spinal growths

Your neurosurgeon at Neurosurgical Specialists of West County diagnoses radiculopathy and its cause by carrying out a physical exam and testing your reflexes and muscle strength, and seeing what makes the pain worse. They also use diagnostic imaging techniques such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, or myelograms and carry out nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG) tests to determine whether the cause is neurological or muscular.

What treatments are available for radiculopathy?

First approaches to treatment for radiculopathy are typically nonsurgical, for example:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Pain medications
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Weight loss programs, if obesity is a factor
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections

If these approaches don’t relieve your symptoms, you may need surgical intervention, like a minimally invasive cervical posterior foraminotomy procedure, for example. Surgical interventions aim to reduce pressure on the affected nerves by removing enough of the disc or vertebrae to create space for the nerve root.

Find out more about treatments for radiculopathy by calling Neurosurgical Specialists of West County today.