Radiculopathy is the pinching of a nerve root (where nerves join/leave the spinal column). Pinching of the nerve roots can cause pain and numbness in areas controlled by that nerve. Symptoms of nerve compression can occur at the site of the compression or further away from the spine. Radiculopathy can occur in the neck, upper back and lower back/buttocks.
Causes of cervical radiculopathy
The nerves that control movement and sensation throughout the body exit the spinal column through small holes called foramina. When these nerve roots are compressed, it may cause painful or painless radiculopathy.
Most commonly, radiculopathy is caused by a herniated disc, overgrown or arthritic joints or instability of the vertebral column (spondylolisthesis). Other causes of radiculopathy include spinal trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, prior spine surgery and bone diseases.
Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy
Common symptoms include:
- Pain at site of nerve impingement
- Shooting pain down affected body part
- Muscle weakness
Diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy
Often a history of symptoms and physical exam may lead to suspicion of spinal stenosis, however, X-ray, CT and MRK may show areas where the nerve may be compressed.
Treatment of cervical radiculopathy
Most patients with radiculopathy improve without surgery; however, in patients with symptoms that do not improve over time, surgery may be warranted.
Nonsurgical options include non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, physical therapy and steroid injections.
Surgical options aim to remove the pressure of the nerve root and may vary depending on the cause of radiculopathy and location in the spine (cervical vs. lumbar). Common surgical procedures are foraminotomy, laminectomy with fusion and discectomy.