Radiculopathy or pinched nerve occurs when one of the nerve roots near cervical vertebra is damaged, disturbed or compressed. The compressed nerve may cause pain that travels to the shoulders and causes numbness or muscle weakness. This is a neurological condition that can occur in any part of the spine but particularly affects the lower back.
What causes Radiculopathy?
Radiculopathy is often caused by degenerative changes that take place in the spine as we age. Some of the most commonly seen causes that lead to Radiculopathy include:
- Herniated Disk: A disk is said to be herniating when the jelly-like center is pushed outside the ring. If the disk of the spinal cord is injured or worn out, the nucleus may squeeze its way through it. Next, as the herniated disk bulges out, pressure is put on the sensitive nerve root further causing pain and weakness.
- Degenerative Changes: As the spinal disc ages, they lose their original height and begin to bulge. In this process, they lose their water content further becoming stiffer. The degenerative changes cause settling problem and there is a loss of disk height space.
Degenerative changes are normal as they occur after a specific age in everyone. Approximately half of all older people aged 60 or above have pinched nerves and worn out disks that do not cause pain. It is still a mystery why some people develop painful syndromes while other doesn’t.
Symptoms Associated with Radiculopathy
In a majority of cases, the symptoms of Radiculopathy depend on the nerves that are affected. The pain of Radiculopathy starts at the back of the neck and travels down to the arm. Patients often describe the pain as a burning sensation. However some of the most commonly observed symptoms include:
- Weakness in The Arm, Hand or Shoulder Muscles.
- Loss of Sensation or Numbness.
- Tingling Feeling in The Fingers or Hands.
- Hypersensitivity to Light.
Some patients have also reported that pain goes away when they place their hands on their head. However, this offers a temporary relief from the pain by releasing pressure on the nerve root.
The neurologist starts diagnosing the disease by physical examination and by reading the medical history of the patient. He will examine the neck, arms, hands and shoulders of the patient to look for loss of sensations, muscle weakness and any reflex changes.
Some of the tests that you may be performed upon include:
- X-ray:X-ray help provides a clear picture of bone. It shows the alignment of bones along the neck and can also reveal whether there is a narrowing of foramen along with damaged discs.
- Computed Tomography Scans: The CT scan gives a more detailed result and helps the doctor determines whether bone spurs have been developed near the foramen.
- Electromyography (EMG): EMG measures electrical impulse of the muscle during contraction and at rest. This test helps in detecting whether the nerves are functioning normally or not.
- Magnetic resonance imaging scans: MRI helps create a better image of body’s soft tissues. It helps in showing whether damage to soft tissues has caused nerve compression or not. It also makes it clear to the doctor to determine whether nerve root is damaged or the spinal cord.
Treatment for Radiculopathy
While a large number of patients get better with the treatment, others may need to consult a good doctor to fight the pain. It is also commonly observed that the symptoms have improved significantly only to return after some time. Such patients need a proper evaluation of their problem before they undergo the treatment.
- Non-Surgical Treatment.
- Soft Cervical Collar.
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).
- Steroid Injections.
- Oral Corticosteroids.
- Physical Therapy.
- Surgical Treatment.
Can it be Prevented?
Till date no specific prevention for Radiculopathy has been discovered. However, people who maintain a reasonable weight, indulge in regular exercising sessions, have good muscle condition and avoid straining their neck and back have low chances of developing this neurological disorder.
A majority of patients correspond well to the treatment options available. So if you are suffering from this disorder, make sure you consult an experienced neurologist.