What Is Radiculopathy?
Radiculopathy is often caused by direct pressure from a herniated disc or degenerative changes in the spine that cause irritation and inflammation of the nerve roots. Radiculopathy usually creates a pattern of pain and numbness that is felt in your arms or your legs in the area of the skin that’s supplied the by the sensory fibers of the nerve root, and weakness in the muscles that are also supplied by the same nerve root.
What Are The Symptoms Of Radiculopathy?
Cervical radiculopathy typically manifests as pain, numbness and weakness that extend from the neck into the shoulders, arms and/or hands. Other symptoms can include neck pain and headaches near the back of the head (occiput); arm reflexes also may be impaired.
Radiculopathy can create hypersensitivity to touch as well as numbness in the area of skin that’s served by the affected nerve root. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, particularly muscle weakness, please see your doctor. The longer the source of nerve irritation remains untreated, the greater the potential for long-term or permanent nerve damage.
How Is Radiculopathy Diagnosed?
Your doctor also may use a diagnostic tool such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. An MRI scan is very useful for determining where the nerve roots are being compressed because this type of a scan is designed to show the details of soft-tissue structures, such as nerves and discs. A CT scan is often used to evaluate the bony anatomy in the lumbar spine, which can show how much space is available for the nerve roots. The nerve roots exit the spinal canal through a bony tunnel called the neuroforamen, and it is at this point that the nerve roots are especially vulnerable to compression.
How Is Radiculopathy Treated?
Spinal surgeons perform a variety of procedures to achieve spinal decompression. When determining the optimal surgical procedure, a surgeon will consider patient pathology (the structural and functional changes that led to the patient’s neurological dysfunction), the level or levels of the spine affected, the patient’s medical history and his or her surgical experience and training.
Today, spinal decompression also can be performed using a minimally invasive technique that allows your spine surgeon to dilate the muscles surrounding your spine rather than stripping the muscles away from the spine.
The benefits of spine surgery, however, must be weighed against the risks. Your surgeon will be able to discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with you, and the likely results of operative versus non-operative treatment.
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