What is Radiculopathy
The term radiculopathy is irritation to a nerve that is as a result of a damaged disc. The damaged disc typically occurs due to degeneration or in layman’s terms, through wear and tear. A damaged disc may also be caused by trauma or injury.
The disc is comprised of an outer ring that protects the centre of the disc. The center is a soft, gelatinous material and provides a cushion between the vertebrae. This is a necessary part of the spine as it not only cushions the vertebrae, but also acts as a shock absorber and allows for movement and flexibility of the spine. If you can imagine, the spine would not be able to perform one of its major functions, that of mobility, if there were no “cushion” between the bones. If the outer ring of the disc becomes damaged, it is no longer able to contain the centre, thus the disc may bulge, herniated or rupture. It is when this happens that radiculopathy may occur.
If radiculopathy is nerve irritation, cervical radiculopathy would be the irritation of a nerve or nerves in the neck.
Our necks are under constant pressure and strain due to having to balance and carry the weight of our heads. On average, a human head weighs ten to fifteen pounds. The cervical spine allows for movement of the head and together with providing support and balance, it doesn’t really have a chance to rest. It makes perfect sense that it would be susceptible to degenerative disc disease given the the wear and tear this part of the spine is subject to.
If someone is suffering from cervical radiculopathy, they may experience a burning pain as well as tingling or a “pins and needles” feeling in one or both arms.
The lower back, or the lumbar spine is also subject to degenerative disc disease. This condition is called lumbar radiculopathy. The lumbar spine provides support to the lower area of the body and is also subject to wear and tear due to a number of factors. In addition to supporting the lower area of the body, improper bending and lifting with this area of the back can certainly speed up the degeneration process.
A patient suffering from lumbar radiculopathy may experience sciatica. This is a pain that is commonly described as a burning or radiating pain that shoots downward from the lower back, through the buttocks and down the back of the leg or legs. This pain can also travel through to the feet. Numbness, tingling and pins and needles may also be felt in the legs and / or feet.
Understanding the Affected Disc
The spine is broken down in the following parts: cervical - C; thoracic - T; Lumbar - L; Sacrum - S.
In diagnosing radiculopathy and determining treatment, your doctor will need to know the disc affected. Therefore, you may see a letter with a number followed by another letter and number. For example, if you were to see or be advised by your doctor that the L5/S1 is affected, it would mean that the affected disc is located between the fifth vertebrae in the lumbar spine and the first vertebrae in the sacrum.