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What is Radiculopathy and why do I have it?

Have you ever experienced numbness, tingling, weakness or pain traveling down your arms or legs?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions you may be experiencing radicular signs and it is important to have a health care professional assess your symptoms to identify the cause. These symptoms are what is known in healthcare as radiculopathy. This condition is a disorder that occurs due to compression or injury to the nerve root, especially after a trauma such as a fall or a motor vehicle accident.

How does this occur?

It is important to note that our nerve roots branch off of our spinal cord which is encased by the 24 vertebrae in our spine. Each vertebra has openings on the sides to allow the nerve roots to exit from the spine and travel out to the rest of the body and provide sensory and motor function. When structures along the nerve’s path throughout the body put pressure on the nerve it can lead to pain, tingling, weakness, and/or numbness or abnormal sensation along the area that specific nerve is responsible for. These structures that surround the nerve roots (tendons, intervertebral discs, vertebrae, etc.) can change in size due to inflammation and affect the nerve root where it travels throughout the spine. Inflammation frequently occurs in these tissues following a trauma like a motor vehicle accident or fall as our bodies adapt during recovery from an injury, leading to compression of the nerve. Degenerative changes to the structures in the spine over time can also lead to radicular symptoms especially when compounded with a recent injury.

The cause of the compression is important to identify when it comes to treatment of the symptoms.

This pressure or impingement of the nerve roots can be caused by stenosis, disc herniations, bone spurs, inflamed soft tissue structures or other conditions that put pressure on the nerves. Stenosis is the narrowing of the hole where the nerve root exits, which can be caused by degenerative and/or traumatic changes to the bone or bulging/herniated discs narrowing the opening for the nerve.

To diagnose this condition, the doctor will obtain the history of the complaint, perform a physical examination, and order all necessary imaging to accurately determine the source of the radiculopathy. The most common imaging tests to accurately confirm the source of the symptoms are MRIs or nerve conduction studies.

 Finally, now that we know what it is, and how it is caused, how do we manage the symptoms associated with radiculopathy?

Treatment for this condition can range from conservative options like chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy to more advanced options such as steroidal injections and minimally invasive surgery depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms. As we mentioned previously, following an accident or trauma the areas of the body that were affected will likely have pain and  inflammation along with the radicular symptoms. Research has shown that the use of manual therapy techniques, therapeutic modalities, chiropractic adjustments, and therapeutic exercise is effective for increasing function, decreasing pain and disability, and increasing range of motion or mobility.

Radiculopathy can occur at nearly all levels of the spine, but it most frequently occurs at the neck or low back. The nerves that innervate the neck down to your fingers all exit at the cervical spine which is the first 7 vertebrae in your spine. The nerves that supply the lower body down to the toes all originate from the last five vertebrae also known as the lumbar spine. One of the most well-known forms of radiculopathy is pain traveling down from the low back into the back of the thighs, legs, or even down to the toes, also known as sciatica. If you have been in any kind of accident and have suffered a possible spinal injury or are experiencing symptoms of radiculopathy you should seek prompt medical attention from a healthcare provider. Our experienced doctors and technicians pinpoint your areas of concern and will treat you with the innovated and tested methods in order to produce the best results possible.