Radiculopathy: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

Radiculopathy of the Spine Back or Neck

Radiculopathy is a condition caused by compression, irritation, or inflammation of a nerve root as it exits the spinal column. The condition is sometimes referred to as a “pinched nerve.” The condition often results in pain, numbness, or weakness radiating from the affected nerve. The location of the affected nerve root determines the specific area where these symptoms will be felt. Lumbar and cervical radiculopathy (affecting the lower back and neck, respectively) are the most common types.

Radiculopathy Symptoms

Symptoms of radiculopathy can vary depending on the location of the affected nerve root but may include:

  1. Radiating pain, often described as sharp, shooting, or burning, which can extend from the spine to other parts of the body along the path of the nerve. For a full explanation of the spine, in the context of radiculopathy, see Medical News Today.
  2. Numbness or decreased sensation in the area served by the nerve.
  3. Tingling or a “pins and needles” sensation.
  4. Muscle weakness or reflex loss in the affected area.
  5. In severe cases, loss of coordination or motor skills.


The diagnosis of radiculopathy starts with a comprehensive medical history and physical examination, including a neurological examination. To confirm the diagnosis and identify the exact location of nerve root involvement, additional tests might be needed:

  1. Imaging tests: This may include X-rays, CT scans, or spine MRI scans to visualize the spinal cord, nerve roots, and surrounding structures.
  2. Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) and Electromyography (EMG): These tests measure the electrical activity of nerves and muscles and can confirm nerve damage and its source.
  3. Myelogram: This is a special kind of X-ray or CT scan where a contrast dye is injected into the spinal canal to highlight any pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

Radiculopathy Treatments

Treatment for radiculopathy aims to relieve symptoms and improve functionality. The choice of treatment depends on the severity and underlying cause of the condition.

  1. Conservative treatments: These include physical therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers (like NSAIDs), and prescription medications for nerve pain, such as gabapentin or pregabalin. Corticosteroids can also be used to reduce inflammation and pain.
  2. Epidural Steroid Injections: If conservative treatments aren’t effective, an epidural steroid injection can be used to deliver medication directly to the affected nerve root. This can reduce inflammation and pain.
  3. Spine Surgery: In cases where symptoms are severe or if there’s progressive neurological deficit, surgical intervention might be considered. Common procedures include laminectomy (removal of the lamina of the vertebra to create more space for the nerves) and microdiscectomy (removal of part of a herniated disc pressing on a nerve root).

Remember, if you are experiencing lower back or neck pain a healthcare professional should always be consulted for a thorough diagnosis and treatment plan.