When too much pressure is applied to a nerve’s surrounding tissues, a pinched nerve may occur. This pressure disrupts the function of the nerve causing pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness. Pinched nerves generally resolve with rest, medication and physical therapy within a few days to a few weeks. Sometimes, surgery is required to alleviate pain from severe pinched nerves.
Radiculopathy presents in three common types:
- Sciatica – radiating pain along the sciatic nerve, down one or both legs from the lower spine.
- Cervical Radiculopathy – pinched or inflamed nerve in the neck causing pain, numbness, or weakness radiating into the chest or arm.
- Thoracic Radiculopathy – rare, disease in the root of a nerve in the thoracic region of the spine.
Radiculopathy is typically caused by tissue changes in the nerve roots. When tissues shift or change, they may narrow the spaces where nerve roots travel. A herniated disc, bone spurs, and ossification of spinal ligaments may also be causes.
Symptoms may vary depending on the location of the pinched nerve. However, common symptoms include:
- Sharp pain in the back, arms, legs, or shoulders that worsens with activity.
- Weakness or loss of sensation in the arms or legs.
- Numbness in the arms or legs.
Your doctor will perform an examination to determine muscle strength and reflexes and account for any pain with movement. This helps identify the affected nerve root. X-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs are also used to visualize the affected nerve(s). A nerve conduction study and electromyography (EMG) may be helpful in diagnosis. Treatment will vary depending on the location and cause of the radiculopathy. Nonsurgical options include:
- NSAIDs, opioids, or muscle relaxants
- Physical therapy to strengthen muscles
- Steroid injections to reduce inflammation and relieve pain
Should surgery be necessary, your health and spinal problem are carefully considered to determine the best approach to returning you to the best quality of life as quickly as possible. Minimally invasive surgery may be recommended to reduce pressure on the affected nerve root by widening the space where the roots exit the spine.