Nerve issues along the spine
To understand radiculopathy, one needs to understand some basics about the nervous system.
Along the length of the spine, nerves exit through “open spaces between the vertebrae” on the left and right sides. The exit points are called the foramen; the nerves are called nerve roots, or radicular nerves. Nerves that exit the spine find their way to the extremities of our body, and that’s how we feel and gain function.
Because nerves throughout the body often have a similar exit point from the spine (nerve root), spinal and back issues, such pinched nerves due to problematic discs can lead to pain in multiple parts of the body. For example, problems in the lower back can result in buttock, leg muscle, and foot pain.
Radiculopathy refers to a set of conditions in which one or more nerves are affected and do not work properly (a neuropathy). The location of the injury is at the level of the nerve root (radix = “root”). This can result in pain (radicular pain), weakness, numbness, or difficulty controlling specific muscles.Cervical Radiculopathy
The cervical spine is the part of the spine at the neck level. Nerves exit out of all levels of the cervical spine, giving function and feeling to shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. When any nerve root in the cervical spine is inflamed or compressed, leading to irritation, this is radiculopathy, and leads to radicular pain. The pain can spread along a nerve’s pathway, so the location of the pain depends on the specific nerve root affected.
Cervical radiculopathy is caused by herniated disc, spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease, in most cases. Stenosis is the narrowing of the hole through which the spinal nerve exits.
Lumbar radiculopathy comes from the compression, inflammation or injury of spinal nerve roots in the lower back. Herniated discs are a common cause of this compression. Stenosis is another common cause.
Who is at Risk?
Rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and obesity all increase the risk of radiculopathy. Pregnant women are also at higher risk. It can also be hereditary however.