Radiculopathy is a term used to describe a condition where the nerve root in the spinal canal becomes inflamed or damaged. These nerve roots branch off from the spinal cord and exit through small openings in the vertebrae, and when they become compressed or damaged, pain and weakness can ensue.
Radiculopathy can be self-limiting and sometimes will go away on its own over time with rest, physical therapy, and ice/heat therapy. This condition can occur when the nerve root becomes inflamed as a result of a bone spur or herniated disc. Rarely, tumors or infections can cause this as well.
The nerves in our cervical spine are responsible for enabling function in our shoulders, arms, and hands, as well as providing sensation to our skin through sensory fibers. Thus, this condition can cause an array of symptoms, including:
Pain or weakness in the neck, shoulders, arms, and fingers
Numbness, tingling, or a pins-and-needle feeling in the neck, shoulders, arms, and fingers
Symptoms may be exacerbated by certain movements like tilting the head backward and to the side
To diagnose, your doctor will perform a clinical exam and ask you a number of questions regarding your symptoms. Your doctor may look for abnormalities via a physical examination, X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Radiculopathy may be self-limiting and may go away on its own over time. When appropriate, non-surgical intervention is the first choice and may include:
1. Medications (anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, steroids)
2. Physical Therapy (core strengthening, stretching, soft tissue release)
3. Steroid Injections (epidural, facet blocks)
If non-surgical treatment fails, surgery may be recommended to treat the underlying condition.