Radiculopathy

Diagnosis of Radicular Pain

Radicular pain can be detrimental to a person’s quality of life. This article will help you learn more about radiculopathy and treatment.

Table of Contents

What Is Radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy is a condition that involves pain, numbness, and tingling associated with pinched nerves in the back. Radiculopathy happens when a nerve root—where the nerve meets the spinal column—becomes inflamed or compressed. Although back and neck pain is very common, pain caused by radiculopathy is relatively rare.

What Causes Radiculopathy (Radicular Pain)?

Radicular nerve pain can occur following any trauma or irritation of the roots of the spinal nerves. Some causes include:

Trauma

Injuries from falling or car accidents can cause trauma to the back that turns into radicular pain.

Bone Spurs

Also called osteophytes, bone spurs are smooth, bony growths near joints that develop in people with arthritis or joint damage. When bone spurs put pressure on nearby nerves in the spine, this can lead to radicular pain.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc, also referred to as a slipped, bulging, or ruptured disc, is when the cushioning between the bones of the spine tears or leaks, making movement painful or difficult. If the herniated disc irritates a nerve root, this can cause radicular pain symptoms. An estimated five to twenty cases per one thousand adults annually experience herniated discs and is most prevalent between ages thirty and fifty.

Age

Sometimes, radicular syndrome is something that occurs simply due to getting older. As we age, our bones and discs in the spine degenerate, losing shape and flexibility. These changes can cause shifts in the spine that lead to a pinched nerve.

Radicular Pain Symptoms

There are three types of radicular pain, and each one depends on the location of the compressed nerve in the back.

Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radicular pain symptoms involve weakness or numbness typically on one side of the body. Pain is centralized in the neck, shoulder, upper back, or arm. A study has shown that 1.79 per 1,000 people per year are diagnosed with cervical radiculopathy, and 30% report pain when sitting, standing, or walking.

Thoracic Radiculopathy

This type of radicular pain happens in the mid-back and can cause symptoms of burning or shooting pain in the rib, side, or abdomen. It may also involve numbness or tingling in the affected areas. Thoracic radiculopathy affects approximately one million people per year.

Lumbar Radiculopathy

Lumbar radicular pain is felt in the lower back and can include burning pain in the hips, lower back pain, numbness in the legs, muscular weakness, and pain that radiates to the legs and feet. It is estimated that 3% to 5% of the population have lumbar radiculopathy.4

Diagnosis of Radicular Pain

In many cases, doctors can diagnose radiculopathy via a thorough medical examination. However, in some cases, further testing is needed to diagnose or determine the cause of radiculopathy. Doctors initially perform physical exams of the back and spine. Based on the patients’ described symptoms and sensations and the location of the pain, doctors may be able to identify the type of radicular weakness experienced.

Imaging Tests

In cases where further testing is needed, doctors will perform one or several imaging tests.

X-Rays

X-rays show images of bones and can show bone anatomy, alignment of the vertebral column, and any bone spurs or disc space narrowing that may be present.

MRI Scans

MRI scans can show soft tissue, useful when a slipped disc is suspected, and nerve roots, which can be inflamed.

CT Scans

CT scans can give a more detailed image of the spine; myelography can also be used to assess nerve function.

What Can I Expect if I Have Radicular Pain?

Although radicular syndrome can be uncomfortable and hard to live with, the good news is that it is treatable. Depending on the severity of radiculopathy pain, doctors may recommend prescription medications or physical therapy.

Radicular Pain Over-the-Counter Medication and Treatment Opportunities

Often, over-the-counter medicines and lifestyle changes (such as exercises and healthy wellness techniques) are enough to improve radicular symptoms. For many, radicular back pain will decrease or stop within six to twelve weeks of non-surgical treatment.

Radicular Pain vs. Radiculopathy

Are radicular pain and radiculopathy the same thing? They are slightly different. These differences will be detailed below.

Radicular Pain

Radicular pain occurs when pain radiates out from a compressed or irritated nerve. For example, radicular back pain may radiate down into the leg, causing radicular leg pain.

Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy refers to when the irritated nerve results in neurological differences such as numbness, muscle weakness, and problems with reflexes.

Prevention of Radicular Pain

Radicular disease is not always avoidable since it is sometimes the simple result of aging. However, some tips may help prevent radicular syndrome.
Prevention Tips for Radicular Pain

Maintain Good Posture

Even while doing simple things like sitting or driving, it is important to maintain good posture to keep the spine in proper alignment.

Practice Proper Lifting Techniques

Lifting with the back instead of the legs can lead to trauma and injury, especially if improper lifting happens repeatedly.

Participate in Regular Physical Activity

It’s important to stay active, especially as we get older. However, high-impact exercises may be too hard on the joints and bones, so gentle movement and weight-bearing exercises are great ways to strengthen the body and prevent radicular symptoms.

Develop Core Strength

Because the abdominal muscles are crucial in supporting the spine, building core strength is a great way to protect the back from pain and injuries.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess weight can put stress and pressure on the body, including the spine. Prevent radicular pain patterns from forming by maintaining a healthy weight.

Take Frequent Breaks and Stretch

When sitting or standing in one position for an extended period of time, be sure to take frequent breaks to stretch and move the body. Incorporating stretching into a daily routine is a good way to keep the body healthy.

Avoid Repetitive Movements

For example, people who tilt their heads to hold their phones to their shoulders may want to consider dropping that habit. Over time, this can lead to injuries and damage to the cervical spine. Similarly, constantly looking down at the phone can lead to similar issues.

Get Treatment for Radicular Pain at J. Flowers Health

There are plenty of treatment options available for those dealing with radiculopathy pain.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Nonsurgical options for lumbar, thoracic, and cervical radiculopathy treatment include:
  • Medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Posture improvement

Surgical Treatments

For severe cases of radicular pain, surgery may be the best option for relief. Surgical options include:

  • Discectomy
  • Laminectomy
  • Laser debridement and facet thermal ablation

Whether you’re dealing with cervical radicular pain symptoms, lumbar radiculopathy, or overall chronic back pain, J. Flowers Health can help you find relief and improve your quality of life. Don’t hesitate to reach out. Call us today to learn more!