Radiculopathy can be brought about as a symptom of several different underlying conditions or lifestyle factors. These contributing factors can often be a challenge to diagnose, as their side effects can manifest as radiculopathy pain or miswired nerve sensations... But seemingly with no probable cause that is easily identifiable!
Here, we explore when Radiculopathy might be what you're experiencing when you're feeling some unpleasant sensations elsewhere in your body, or some pains you can't quite explain...
What is Radiculopathy Exactly?
Radiculopathy, more commonly known as a pinched nerve, occurs due to injury or damage to the nerve roots.
Nerve roots are found from where the nerves split from your spinal cord and travel to various regions in your body. The resulting symptoms from an injury, pinch, or damage at these nerve roots is called radiculopathy.
When Does Radiculopathy Usually Occur?
Radiculopathy occurs very often with aging, with the most common age of onset being between 30 and 50 years old. This is due to degenerating discs in the spine over time. When these spinal discs that are there to help protect the spine start to degenerate, they begin to bulge in certain places. These discs that are normally a soft gel-like cushion will also dry out and stiffen.
As the degeneration of these discs occur, the body responds by creating bone spurs to help strengthen these discs. Unfortunately, what this actually does is narrow the nerve root exit and pinches the nerve. This leads to Radiculopathy symptoms.
Why Is It So Common?
First up, let's get a good understanding of the miracle that is the nervous system, and how it can so easily be disrupted- even if just one component is out of alignment...
All the nerves in your body relay messages to and from your brain, providing the ability to perceive sensation to your body. They travel through a network of nerve roots that stem from your spine, so if there are any issues with the portals in your spine through which these important nerves travel, their journey will be interrupted- it's akin to having a boulder that's rolled onto the middle of a highway.
The spine is a structure made up of 33 bones or vertebrae that are stacked up and separated by spinal discs to protect the spinal cord from injury. The spinal cord runs through the hollow interior of the vertebrae and these vertebrae have small holes where nerves extend out from the spine to the rest of your body.
Due to the complexity of the spinal column, pinched nerves can occur with relative ease, considering all the parts that have to work in harmony with each other for the nerves to be functioning correctly.
Any time the spinal nerve roots are irritated or compressed from a bone spur or something else, Radiculopathy may occur. Many conditions such as arthritis, herniated discs, scoliosis, spinal tumors (less common), or even diabetes can also cause radiculopathy.
What Does it Feel Like?
The pain that is caused by radiculopathy can be severe, ranging from tingling or numbness in the fingers or hand, to weakness in the arm, shoulder, or hands as well.
Other symptoms can be decreased motor skills, loss of sensation, and pain associated with movement.
What Else Could Be in Play?
Radiculopathy can also be accompanied by Myelopathy, which is the compression of the spinal cord itself. This is where herniated or bulging discs can press on the spinal cord as well as the nerve roots.
When the spinal cord is involved, the symptoms can be more severe and include problems with coordination, to difficulty walking and even paralysis in extreme cases. This can occur at any age, as the most common causes of Radiculopathy at a young age is disc herniation or injury.
When to Keep an Eye Out for It
Radiculopathy can occur at any age, but most commonly occurs between the ages of 30 and 50, so be aware of any loss of sensation or related pains you suspect might be Radiculopathy if you're in that high risk age group, as your symptoms may be pointing to a deeper issue.
Awareness of the condition and early intervention is key with Radiculopathy, as it can cause severe pain and debilitating consequences if left untreated, including loss of sensation and even paralysis.
Fortunately, most cases respond well to conservative or “simple” treatments without invasive surgery, so the outlook is bright for those suffering from Radiculopathy.
As always, consult your physician for an examination if you've got some concerns, as a diagnosis of the underlying issue and an effective treatment plan may be right around the corner for you!
Slabway Medical Consultant