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Learn more about Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy, colloquially called a “pinched nerve,” is a condition where the nerve roots coming out of the spinal cord become compressed or inflamed, leading to pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling along the path of the affected nerve. 

Radiculopathy typically occurs when there is pressure on the nerve roots caused by conditions such as herniated discs, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, or other degenerative changes in the spine. This compression can lead to irritation, inflammation, or even damage to the nerves, resulting in symptoms that radiate along the nerve's pathway.

Video: Radiculopathy Patient, Jeff

Jeff suffered from debilitating back pain caused by a pinched nerve in his spine. He sought treatment by Dr. Grant Shifflett, who helped Jeff get back on the golf coarse, pain free.

Radiculopathy Symptoms:

Common symptoms of radiculopathy may include:

  • Pain: Radicular pain often travels along the nerve pathway and can be sharp, shooting, or burning in nature. The pain may be felt in the neck, back, or extremities, depending on which nerve is affected.
  • Numbness and Tingling: Patients may experience sensations of numbness, tingling, or pins and needles in the area supplied by the affected nerve. This can occur in the arms, hands, legs, or feet.
  • Weakness: Radiculopathy can lead to muscle weakness in the affected area. For instance, if a nerve in the lower back is compressed, it may cause weakness in the leg muscles.
  • Loss of Reflexes: Reflexes controlled by the affected nerves may be diminished or absent in a patient suffering from radiculopathy.

Radiculopathy Treatment:

Treatment for radiculopathy typically starts with conservative measures and can progress to surgical interventions when the cases are severe.

Common non-surgical treatment options include:

  • Rest: Resting allows the affected area to recover by minimizing strain on the spine and the affected nerves, and can help reduce inflammation and irritation. However, it's essential to balance rest with gentle movement to prevent stiffness and muscle weakness.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy focuses on exercises and techniques to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles, and correct posture. Specific exercises target the affected nerve roots and surrounding musculature to alleviate pressure on the nerves and promote healing. Physical therapists may also use heat, ice, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS): NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are commonly used to manage pain and inflammation associated with radiculopathy because they can help reduce swelling around compressed nerve roots which helps alleviate pressure and pain symptoms. These medications work by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals in the body that promote inflammation and pain.
  • Epidural steroid injections to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms: Epidural steroid injections deliver a corticosteroid medication directly into the epidural space around the spinal cord and nerve roots. Corticosteroids have potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation and swelling of the nerve roots, providing pain relief.

Pain Management at DISC

These conservative treatments offer a non-invasive approach to managing pain and promoting healing, often providing significant relief for patients without the need for surgery. However, the effectiveness of these treatments may vary depending on the severity and underlying cause of the radiculopathy, so it's essential to work closely with a healthcare provider to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Common Surgical Options Include:

  • Discectomy: A discectomy is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure performed to remove a portion of a herniated or degenerated intervertebral disc that is compressing a nerve root in the spine.
    • The surgery typically involves making a small incision in the back or neck and then using specialized instruments to access the affected disc.
    • The surgeon carefully removes the portion of the disc material that is causing compression on the nerve root, and by relieving the pressure on the nerve, the procedure aims to alleviate pain, numbness, and weakness associated with radiculopathy.
  • Laminectomy: A laminectomy, also known as decompression surgery, involves removing a portion of the lamina, which is the bony arch covering the spinal canal.
    • This procedure relieves pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.
    • During a laminectomy, the surgeon makes an incision in the back and then removes a section of the lamina, creating more space within the spinal canal, which reduces compression on the spinal cord and nerve roots to alleviate symptoms like pain, numbness and weakness.
  • Spinal fusion: A spinal fusion is a surgical procedure performed to join two or more vertebrae together permanently, and is often recommended to stabilize the spine and prevent abnormal movement between vertebrae.
    • During a spinal fusion, the surgeon removes the disc between two adjacent vertebrae and then places a bone graft or synthetic material in the empty disc space. Over time, the bone graft fuses with the adjacent vertebrae, creating a solid bony bridge that stabilizes the spine.
    • In addition to bone grafts, metal implants such as screws, rods, or plates may be used to provide additional stability and support during the fusion process.
    • Spinal fusion can help alleviate symptoms of radiculopathy by preventing further compression of nerve roots and restoring spinal stability.

Radiculopathy Recovery:

Recovery from radiculopathy depends on various factors including the severity of the nerve compression, the success of the chosen treatment, and individual patient factors such as overall health and activity level. However, DISC’s minimally-invasive techniques result in smaller incisions, less tissue damage, and quicker recovery times compared to traditional open surgery.

Patients who undergo surgery may experience initial postoperative discomfort, but often notice improvement in their symptoms over time as the nerves heal and inflammation subsides. Physical therapy and rehabilitation play a crucial role in radiculopathy recovery, helping to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and prevent future recurrences.

It's important for patients with radiculopathy to work closely with their healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate treatment plan tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. If you’re suffering from spinal pain, contact DISC to schedule a consultation and learn more about your treatment options.

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About the author

discmdgroup DISC Sports and Spine Center (DISC) is one of America’s foremost providers of minimally invasive spine procedures and advanced arthroscopic techniques. Our individually picked, highly specialized physicians apply both established and innovative solutions to diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate their patients in a one-stop, multi-disciplinary setting. With a wide range of specialists under one roof, the result is an unmatched continuity of care with more efficiency, less stress for the patient, and a zero MRSA infection rate. Read more articles by discmdgroup.

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