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Radiculopathy: Treating a painful pinched nerve in the spine

Posted October 12, 2020 by Matthew N Jaykel, MD

African American man at desk holding his back in pain

If you’ve ever felt pain, numbness, tingling or weakness along the path of a nerve, you may have experienced radiculopathy, caused by a pinched or irritated nerve in your spinal column. If you’re lucky, these symptoms will be infrequent and merely irritating, but for many they can become constant and even incapacitating.

Because different areas of your body are served by different areas of your spinal column, your specific symptoms will depend on where in your spine the nerve is affected.

Cervical Nerves: head, neck, shoulders, arms and hands

Thoracic Nerves: shoulders, chest, abdomen, arms, hands and upper and middle back

Lumbar Nerves: lower back, pelvis, buttocks, groin, legs and feet

One of the most common types of radiculopathy is sciatica, which is pain that originates in the lower back. It travels through your buttocks and down the sciatic nerve (the largest single nerve in the body). Symptoms can include:

  • Constant pain in one of your buttocks or legs
  • Pain that gets worse when you stand or sit
  • Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving your leg, foot and/or toes

What causes a pinched nerve?

The 24 vertebrae in the spine are connected by discs which serve as shock-absorbing cushions. The most common cause of radiculopathy is a bulging or herniated disc that presses against the spinal nerves. Other conditions include:

  • Degenerative disc disease (DDD)
  • Spinal stenosis (a gradual narrowing of the space where nerves pass through the spine)
  • Bone spurs (bony projections that narrow the nerve’s pathway)
  • Spine tumor (usually from cancer that spreads from other parts of the body)
  • Spine trauma (injuries from falls, sports, car accidents or disease)
  • Diabetes

Some risk factors are preventable.

Radiculopathy most commonly affects those age 30 to 50. While age, genetics and diabetes can be risk factors, others are lifestyle related:

  • Certain occupations
  • Prolonged sitting
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity

Treatment begins outside the OR

Most radiculopathy patients can be treated without surgery using medication, physical therapy or steroid injections. They usually get relief in just a few weeks. If your pain doesn’t improve with these therapies or gets worse, you may be a candidate for spinal surgery.

Summa spine specialists practice a range of minimally invasive spine surgery techniques that offer safe and effective alternatives to traditional surgical options. Our specialists are also fellowship trained in complex spine surgeries, offering you the highest level of expertise.

For a consultation with Dr. Jaykel call 330.835.5533.

Matthew N Jaykel, MD

Matthew N Jaykel, MD

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