Radiculopathy Pain Management in Knoxville, TNPain in your back or neck can be a debilitating condition. Around 5-10% of low back and neck pain are caused by radiculopathy – a compression of a nerve in your spine. According to a 2016 study published in American Family Physician, 85 per 100,000 people suffer from radiculopathy in their neck, while a 2007 study in The New England Journal of Medicine notes that 5 in 1000 people are affected by radiculopathy in their lower back yearly. In this article, we will discuss the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for radiculopathy in Knoxville. Let us begin by having a closer look at the anatomy of the body’s main support structure – our spine.
What is radiculopathy?The spine is a column built from the 33 bones called vertebrae, 24 of which are separated and cushioned by softer intervertebral discs, while the 9 bottom ones are fused together. Nerves pass through the openings in the vertebrae and extend to your legs and arms. Radiculopathy, more commonly known as a pinched nerve, is a compression of one or more nerves at the point of exiting the spine. It causes pain, tingling sensation, or weakness in the parts of the body controlled by the affected nerve. Although radiculopathy can occur in any part of the spine, the two most common types are cervical (affecting the neck) and lumbar (affecting the lower back). A pinched nerve in the middle section of the back (thoracic) is rare, as this part of the spine is more stable and rigid.
What causes radiculopathy?Radiculopathy is often a result of an injury. When an intervertebral disc becomes damaged or inflamed, it presses on the nerve nearby, causing pain and other symptoms. It can also be a result of tissue degeneration that comes with aging. As we get older, the discs in our spine lose hydration and get thinner. That results in vertebrae moving closer together, for which our body compensates by growing more bone in that area to stabilize it. This often leads to increased pressure on the nearby nerve roots. Many people who are middle-aged and older have these degenerative changes in their spine, but interestingly, around half of them don’t experience any associated pain. The most common causes of radiculopathy are:
- Slipped or herniated discs – the soft center of a disc pushing out toward the spinal canal
- Spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the opening in the spinal canal
- Osteoarthritis – degeneration of the cartilage around the joints
- Bone spurs – the extra bits of bone that start growing around the spinal joints
How common is radiculopathy?Lumbar radiculopathy is a common complaint affecting, per various estimates, between 10% to 40% of the general population. Cervical radiculopathy is not as prevalent, with an occurrence of around 1%. As spinal degeneration is one of the main causes of radiculopathy, its incidence rises with age, with symptoms often starting in your 40s or 50s.
SymptomsThe most common symptoms of radiculopathy are pain, numbness, tingling or burning sensation, and weakness or difficulty in muscle control. The location of the symptoms is dependent on which nerve is affected. For example, in cervical radiculopathy, the pain and accompanying symptoms are often felt in the shoulder and arms, as well as the neck. In lumbar radiculopathy, the symptoms can appear in the leg and foot, in addition to the lower back. Lumbar radiculopathy is also known as sciatica because it affects the sciatic nerve: the largest nerve in the human body responsible for controlling thigh, leg, and foot muscles. Prolonged sitting or walking might aggravate the radicular pain in sciatica. In some cases, another unpleasant symptom can be loss of bladder control.
DiagnosisA patient’s medical history and physical exam are usually enough to diagnose radiculopathy. A doctor might perform specific tests during the exam to check for any abnormalities in the nerve function:
- Spurling test – gently pressing on the patient’s head while it is bent to the affected side – can often reproduce the cervical radicular symptoms, confirming the diagnosis.
- Straight Leg Raise test – lifting the patient’s leg from lying down position – can similarly assist in diagnosing lumbar radiculopathy.
How is radiculopathy treated?In the vast majority of cases, radiculopathy improves on its own within a few weeks or months but treatment can be helpful to provide pain relief in the meantime. In mild cases, rest, physical therapy, and non-steroid medications, such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen, can help manage the symptoms until recovery. If the symptoms do not improve, steroid injections might be recommended. This treatment injects a combination of corticosteroids and local anesthetics into the affected area to reduce inflammation and pain. Rarely, surgery might be necessary to relieve the pressure on the nerve. It is usually achieved by removing a small portion of either the bone or the herniated disc next to the compressed nerve. All of the listed treatment options for radiculopathy are widely used at the Knoxville Omega Pain Doctor clinic by qualified specialists.
ConclusionRadiculopathy is a relatively common and debilitating condition that occurs when a nerve in your spine gets compressed. It can affect different nerves, causing symptoms in various parts of the body: neck, shoulders, and arms in the case of cervical radiculopathy and low back, legs, and feet in the case of lumbar radiculopathy. The symptoms include pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness. For milder cases, conservative treatment such as rest, physical therapy, and over-the-counter painkillers is recommended. If the recovery is taking a long time, steroid injections can provide the desired pain relief. In rare cases, surgery might be necessary. If you suspect that you are suffering from radiculopathy, please contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment advice.
Radiculopathy treatment in Knoxville, TNIf you’re suffering from sciatic nerve pain, leg pain, or radicular pain, it’s important that you seek the care of an experienced physician. A proper diagnosis will lead to an effective treatment plan. Scheduling an appointment with a doctor is an important first step to wellness. It’s up to you to take the first step in order to take control of your recovery. If you’re in pain, trust your care to pain specialists. For radiculopathy pain in Knoxville, contact Dr. Igor Smelyansky of Omega Pain Management. Phone (865) 337-5137.
Childress MA, Becker BA. Nonoperative Management of Cervical Radiculopathy. Am Fam Physician. 2016 May 1;93(9):746-54. PMID: 27175952
Peul WC, van Houwelingen HC, van den Hout WB, Brand R, Eekhof JA, Tans JT, Thomeer RT, Koes BW; Leiden-The Hague Spine Intervention Prognostic Study Group. Surgery versus prolonged conservative treatment for sciatica. N Engl J Med. 2007 May 31;356(22):2245-56. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa064039. PMID: 17538084.