When an individual experiences any sort of pain, weakness or a change of sensation caused by an irritation of the nerve root—the bases of nerves that connect the spinal cord to various parts of the body and the brain and relay physical stimulation and sensation—the resulting condition is known an radiculopathy.
Most commonly, radiculopathy is the result of a change to the spine or a disc, such as a herniation or rupture, which results in a compression or exertion of pressure on the nerves and nerve root. But it’s important to remember that radiculopathy is simply the term for the pain experienced by any number of disorders or diseases of the spine (scoliosis, for instance), pain that can travel to any part of the body depending on the specific cause.
When nerves in and around the spine are acted upon by a compressive force or exertion, weakness, numbness, pain, and, in certain circumstances, overly sensitive skin can arise and spread throughout the body depending on where the affected nerve is located. For instance, an impacted nerve in the neck (cervical) area could affect the upper torso and arms; with a condition of sciatica in the lower (lumbar) region of the back, the pain would move downwards into the legs and feet.
In attempting to diagnosis a condition of radiculopathy, a physician will examine the patient and determine where exactly the symptoms of pain and numbness are located. By testing for flexibility and strength of the affected area, it may be possible to isolate the impacted nerve or nerves. Follow up imaging will likely be used to verify the diagnosis, utilizing a combination of x-rays, CT scans and MRIs which can reveal the underlying condition causing the radiculopathy, whether it’s the result of any injury, osteoarthritis, scoliosis etc. Also, imaging can help a physician observe any anomalies in or around the spine, the vertebrae and nerves, as well as areas of soft tissue, discs, ligaments etc.
In nearly all cases the symptoms of radiculopathy can be treated with medications, physical therapy and temporary cessation of activities that may exacerbate the pain. In cases where the symptoms persist for more than three months and there is evidence of severe nerve damage, surgery may be required to alleviate the pressure being placed on the nerve roots and spinal cord.