Pinched nerves and other physical pain are common but often go away independently. But if you suffer from long-term pain in your back or neck and can’t figure out what happened, you may be experiencing the ill effects of a more serious condition known as radiculopathy.
What is Radiculopathy?
“Your spine is made of many bones called vertebrae, and your spinal cord runs through a canal in the center of these bones. Nerve roots split from the cord and travel between the vertebrae into various areas of your body. When these nerve roots become pinched or damaged, the resulting symptoms are called radiculopathy.”
Someone with radiculopathy often gets told that what they’re experiencing is an instance of pinched nerves, but the pain is considerable.
Types of Radiculopathy
Radiculopathy has different symptoms and names depending on where in your spine it happens.
- If radiculopathy happens in your lower back, it’s called lumbar radiculopathy. This is also known as sciatica, thanks to the involvement of nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve. People with radiculopathy most often complain of pain in the lower back.
- Cervical radiculopathy defines a compressed nerve root in your neck (or the cervical spine). Thanks to the nerve roots located here primarily controlling feelings in your arms and hands, the symptoms are most likely to happen in this spot.
- Thoracic radiculopathy talks about compressed nerve roots in the thoracic area of your spine, which is the same as your upper back. Radiculopathy rarely happens here, but it’s not unheard of, either. The symptoms regularly follow a dermatomal dispersal resulting in pain and numbness that zig-zags to the front of a person’s body.
What are the symptoms?
- Extensive pain in your arms, back, legs or shoulders may worsen with activities, even simply coughing or sneezing.
- Weakness or lack of reflexes in your arms or legs
- Numbness of the skin, a “pins and needles” feeling, or other irregular sensations in your arms or legs
Specific symptoms depend on where in the spine the nerve root is pinched. But you may have no symptoms or only occasional flare-ups.
Treatment Options for Radiculopathy
Radiculopathy treatment often depends on the “where” and the source of the condition, plus many other factors like your overall health. Nonsurgical treatment is typically recommended first and may include:
- Certain anti-inflammatory medicine or medication which acts as muscle relaxants tend to reduce typical pain symptoms.
- Get some rest and change what you do by restricting strenuous activities, like sports or lifting something heavy. Better posture when sitting or driving might give some relief.
- Physical therapy, particularly an exercise or stretching routine specific to your needs, as prescribed by a physical therapist or other certified medical professionals. Getting your neck and back stronger and more flexible can help them hold much better posture and develop resistance to pain.
- Heat or ice therapy. Applying either one to the neck can offer pain respite for some pinched nerve sufferers. Try cold therapy following an activity-related flare-up to help lower inflammation and pain. When applying either therapy, it’s vital to have a protective layer between your skin and the hot or cold patch and apply either for no more than 15 or 20 minutes with a one to two-hour break in between.
- Include more anti-inflammatory foods in your diet. Besides improving overall health, this is especially important for someone suffering from a pinched nerve. Eat one serving of vegetables per day and two servings of fruit. Olive oil, flaxseed, almonds, walnuts, fatty fish, and other foods with unsaturated fats are preferable. Don’t forget food rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and sardines.
Diagnosis & other treatment
Your healthcare provider may suggest these procedures to diagnose radiculopathy:
- A physical examination and related tests may be employed to check your reflexes and muscle strength. If you experience pain with certain activities, this may assist your medical professional in identifying the impacted nerve root.
- Imaging tests, like an x-ray, computer tomography scan, or magnetic resonance imaging, are deployed to clearly see what’s happening in the problem area.
- Nerve conduction studies and electromyography can help discern if the problem is neurological or muscular.
In some cases, symptoms and pain associated with radiculopathy may be treated with options including ketamine therapy.
Ketamine, which has been around for 60 years, is a powerful anesthetic medicine that may soothe pain symptoms related to radiculopathy and other conditions that aren’t responsive to conventional treatment. Once you’ve been diagnosed, ask your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits and if ketamine therapy is right for you.