Experts estimate that 80% of people will experience back pain at least once in their lives. That’s how common it is, which is also why it’s the number one cause of disability worldwide. In fact, in the US alone, as many as half of working adults say they feel back pain at least once a year.
Radiculopathy, in turn, is a common cause of not only back pain but neck pain too. After all, this condition occurs due to a compressed or a pinched nerve in the spine.
We’ll go through all the basic facts you need to know about this spinal condition, so be sure to keep reading.
What Is Radiculopathy?
The spinal column houses 31 pairs of spinal nerves and roots, eight of which are in the neck (cervical). The upper and middle back (thoracic) has 12 pairs, while the lower back (lumbar) has five. Below the lumbar area is the sacrum, which has five pairs, while the tailbone (coccyx) has one.
When any of those nerves or nerve roots get pinched, it can lead to radiculopathy.
Radiculopathy refers to the symptoms that arise from the pinching of a nerve root in the spine. The pinched nerve, in turn, can be anywhere along the spine. Thus, the location of the pinched nerve determines the type of radiculopathy.
What Are the Most Common Types of Radiculopathy?
Radiculopathy most often affects the neck and the back.
Cervical radiculopathy is radiculopathy that affects the neck or cervical spine. This means that the compression affects one or more of the eight spinal nerve pairs in the neck.
By contrast, thoracic radiculopathy affects the thoracic region, the upper or middle back.
There’s also lumbar radiculopathy, which occurs due to a pinched nerve in the lower back. Researchers say it affects an estimated 3% to 5% of the world’s population.
What Are the Symptoms of Radiculopathy?
The pinching of a nerve root results in the affected root becoming inflamed. The swelling then leads to many unpleasant symptoms, including sharp pain. The location of the pain occurs at the site of the pinched nerve.
For example, if you have cervical radiculopathy, then you’ll feel pain in the neck area. If you have thoracic radiculopathy, your pain would be from the upper or middle back. If the pinched nerve is in your lumbar region, then you’re likely to experience low back pain.
In some cases, the pain may also spread to your shoulders, arms, and legs. The pain may also worsen with even the most minor activities, such as coughing or sneezing.
Loss of reflexes and weakness in the arms, legs, or both are common signs of radiculopathy. In addition, you may experience pins and needles and skin numbness.
What Are the Available Pinched Nerve Treatment Options?
Nonsurgical treatments are the first-line treatments for pinched spinal nerves. These include over-the-counter and prescription pain drugs. Lifestyle changes and physical therapy usually help manage radiculopathy symptoms, too.
Surgical procedures are also available, but they’re often regarded as the last resort.
OTC and Prescription Medications
The most common ones are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These include OTC ibuprofen, naproxen, mefenamic acid, and celecoxib, to name a few.
If OTC drugs are not enough, doctors may prescribe higher-dose NSAIDs. They may also include prescription opioid-based medicines, such as analgesics. These may help ease the pain, but only in the short term, as prolonged use comes with higher risks of addiction.
Researchers found a link between overweight or obesity and lumbar radiculopathy. Moreover, both appear to increase the risk of sciatica-related hospitalization. What’s more, they also seem to raise the odds of needing surgery due to lumbar disc herniation.
For that reason, doctors often recommend patients with radiculopathy to manage their weight. That’s because weight loss may help ease some of the pressure on the pinched nerve.
Besides, a healthy weight may already bring benefits, such as lower blood pressure. It may also help lower your blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. All these may occur even if you lose only 5% to 10% of your current weight.
For you to lose weight, your doctor may prescribe a diet and exercise program. This usually involves trimming your salt, sugar, and unhealthy fat intake. Cutting back on calories and simple carbohydrates may also help.
You may also have to reduce your alcohol intake if you do drink alcoholic beverages. For other at-home remedies, you can visit this page to learn from Neurosurgery One.
Physical therapy, also called physiotherapy or PT, is care that aims to help reduce pain. It involves non-invasive therapies like manual spinal manipulation and exercise. In addition, some physical therapists employ massage therapies that may also combat pain.
PT programs may help ease radiculopathy by strengthening muscles and other soft tissues. By doing so, they may aid in the reduction of pressure on affected nerves.
Surgery may help if non-invasive treatments aren’t enough to help ease radiculopathy symptoms. This is especially true if the pain is so severe it already causes debilitation.
Patients may also consider surgery if their condition causes severe movement impairment. It may also be helpful for patients with loss of bowel or bladder control.
The goal of surgery is to lessen the pressure on the pinched nerves. It does so by widening the space where the nerve roots extend outside of the spine. In some cases, this involves removing parts of a disc, vertebrae, or the entire disc or bone.
Have That Painful Pinched Nerve Treated ASAP
Keep in mind that radiculopathy causes not only physical pain but mental health woes, too. In fact, many patients with lumbosacral radiculopathy have also developed mild depression. Moreover, they reported significant reductions in the quality of their life.
All that should be enough reason never to underestimate radiculopathy. For the same reason, it’s best to get that pinched nerve of yours treated as soon as possible.
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