What are the Different Types of Radiculopathy?

man with back pain Radiculopathy originates in spinal nerve roots, but it can cause pain and weakness in many areas of your body, including your back, legs, arms, and fingers.

In this blog, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon Dr. Steven Schiebert with New Jersey Spine Surgeons explains more about radiculopathy, including its different types.

What is radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy refers to chronic injuries or disease of the spinal nerve roots. These roots split from the spinal cord and travel between vertebrae (the bones of the spine) to other areas of your body. In some cases, they can become pinched or damaged, which causes them to fail to work properly.

What are the different types?

The different types are named for the area of the spine that’s affected. They include the following:

  • Cervical – refers to the nerves in the cervical spine (neck), but also affects nerves that extend through the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. It can cause pain, weakness, tingling, or numbness in these areas.
  • Lumbar – affects the nerves in the lumbar spine (lower back) as well as those that travel trough the buttocks, legs, and feet. Lower back pain and muscle weakness are common symptoms.
  • Sciatica – a type of lumbar radiculopathy that affects the sciatic nerve, which travels from the lower back to the hips, buttocks, and down the back of the legs
  • Thoracic – occurs in the thoracic spine (chest) region, but is relatively uncommon. Symptoms can affect the chest, abdomen, mid-back, or upper back.

What are its common symptoms?

Symptoms can flare up periodically or be more consistent. The location will depend on exactly where your nerve root is pinched.

You may experience any of the following when you have radiculopathy:

  • A sharp pain that can get worse with activity – even coughing or sneezing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling

What causes it?

It's often caused when the space where the nerve roots exit the spine is narrowed, which makes it easier for the nerve to become pinched. This can occur for reasons that include the following:

How is it treated?

In many cases, conservative treatments can help relieve the pain and other symptoms associated with radiculopathy. They can include the following:

  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium
  • Taking pain medication – either over-the-counter or by prescription
  • Taking muscle relaxants
  • Getting a cortisone injection – to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Getting rest
  • Avoiding positions and activities that cause symptoms
  • Making lifestyle changes – such as losing weight if you need to and quitting smoking
  • Receiving massages
  • Undergoing physical therapy – to help you build your core and surrounding muscles to make your spine more stable. You’ll also learn the proper way to twist, turn, and bend to avoid future injury.

When conservative treatments aren’t effective enough over time, minimally invasive surgery may be recommended.

If you’re experiencing pain, muscle weakness, tingling, or other symptoms associated with radiculopathy, make an appointment today with New Jersey Spine Surgeons. We’ll evaluate your symptoms, conduct a physical exam, and consider your medical history. Diagnostic tests such an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan may also be utilized to pinpoint the underlying condition that’s causing your symptoms. Dr. Schiebert will then recommend the most effective, least invasive forms of treatment to help you get relief from pain as well as a return to normal function.

Thank you. We will get back to you as soon as possible.