Radiculopathy is a medical term that refers to a compression of a spinal root. Such compression is responsible for a variety of symptoms and signs some of which are pain, tingling, weakness and numbness.
Types of Radiculopathy
The spine is anatomically divided into cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. Therefore, radiculopathy is most commonly classified according to the affected region.
Lumbar radiculopathy (also known as sciatica) represents a compression of one or more nerve roots in the lower back. As a result, the symptoms and signs are located to the buttocks, legs, ankles and/or feet. Physical exam together with neurological exam is a powerful tool for identifying the exact nerve root which has been compressed. This can be achieved because compression of nerve roots of each spinal level leads to distinctive symptoms.
Cervical radiculopathy develops once one or several cervical nerve roots are compressed. In such case symptoms and signs affect the neck, face, shoulders, arms and hands. Once again, the precise location of compression is determined with a physical and neurological exam.
Finally, thoracic radiculopathy develops after thoracic nerve roots are compressed. This type of radiculopathy is the least common because the thoracic spine does not bend so much, therefore, it is not so susceptible to injuries or other ailments. However, if the compression takes place, it is characterized by symptoms and signs that affect the arms, chest, abdomen and pelvis.
It is a good thing that majority of patients suffering from acute radiculopathy actually fully recover with the assistance of different conservative treatments. For instance, pain and stiffness can be relieved with anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy helps patients restore all the movement in the affected parts of the spine and increases the strength of the muscles surrounding the spine. Physical therapy is also essential for strengthening of muscles of other regions in the body. Chiropractic treatment may be suggested to a certain number of patients. All of the affected individuals are supposed to abstain from any activity that may strain already injured part of the spine and cause additional nerve root compression. Depending on the severity of the condition patients recover within six weeks to 3 months.
In case the mentioned measures fail to provide with desirable results, patients are recommended epidural steroid injections. Finally severe compression which simply does not respond to any of conservative treatments and is associated with prolonged and serious neurological deficits is treated surgically. The goal of such surgery is to deal with compression. It is performed in a form of laminectomy or discectomy.