Radiculopathy: What is it? Spine, Causes, Risk Factors, Types and Treatment

It is a nerve pressed on the spine and can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including pain, weakness and numbness.

When the discs in the spine are damaged, they can affect nearby nerve roots. This leads to a Radiculopathy.

What is the spine?

The spine is a stacked structure composed of 33 bones or vertebrae, which protect the spinal cord from injury or trauma.

The bones of the spine allow a person to remain standing, bending and twisting and are held in place by a network of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The nerves extend from the spine to other areas of the body, such as the arms and legs.

The spine is curved in an S-shape, which is vital for the health of the spine. These curves are responsible for the absorption of impacts, balance and a variety of movements.

Each region of the spine has a specific name and function. Which are:

  • Cervical column or neck.
  • Thoracic column.
  • Lower back.
  • Sacred.
  • Bone of the tail.

Each vertebra is cushioned from its neighbor by an intervertebral disc. This protects the vertebrae so they do not rub one on top of the other.

When injuries occur, these intervertebral discs can be damaged and cause compression or irritation of a nearby nerve root. Depending on which nerve is compressed, a person may experience pain in a variety of places throughout the body.

Age of the affected

People may develop Radiculopathy as a result of an injury, or it may occur for no apparent reason. People between 30 and 50 years are more likely to experience radiculopathy in the areas of the cervical and lumbar spine.

Causes and risk factors

There are multiple factors that can generate a Radiculopathy, including the technique of poor lifting, poor posture and back injuries.

It can also occur by:

  • A herniated disk compresses the nerve root.
  • A degenerative disc disease.
  • Tumors in the spine.
  • Bone spurs
  • Spinal arthritis
  • Fractures
  • Scoliosis caused by an abnormal curve in the spine.
  • Spondylolisthesis presented by a vertebra that moves and rests on the vertebra below.
  • Cauda equine syndrome, a rare but serious condition when compression of the nerve root affects the pelvic organs and lower extremities.
  • Diabetes, caused by altered nervous blood flow.

Additional risk factors for developing Radiculopathy include:

  • Overweight.
  • Aging.
  • Bad posture.
  • Inadequate lifting techniques.
  • Family history of degenerative bone diseases.

Types of Radicupathy

Cervical Radiculopathy:

It occurs when a nerve is compressed in the neck or upper back. Symptoms associated with Cervical Radiculopathy include:

  • Pain in some extremities of the body such as: shoulders, neck, arms and back.
  • Weakness in the back

Thoracic Radiculopathy:

A person may experience chest and torso pain when compression or irritation of the nerve occurs in the middle region of the back.

It is a rare condition that can be misdiagnosed as complications of herpes zoster, heart, abdominal or gallbladder.

Symptoms associated with Thoracic Radiculopathy include:

  • Severe pain in the ribs, side or abdomen.

Lumbar Radiculopathy:

A person may experience pain in the lower back, legs and hip when nerve compression or irritation occurs in the lower back.

Lumbar radiculopathy is also known as sciatica, and symptoms include pain and numbness in the lower back, hips, buttocks, legs, or feet. In general, symptoms get worse with long periods of sitting or walking.

In some cases, nerves that affect the bowel and bladder can be compressed, leading to bowel or bladder incontinence or loss of control.


Typically, radiculopathy is treatable without surgery. Depending on the severity and other health conditions, doctors may recommend certain medications, which include:

  • Non-steroidal medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen .
  • Oral corticosteroids or injectable steroids.
  • Narcotic medications for pain.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Application of ice and heat.

In some cases, doctors may recommend surgery to treat the cause of nerve compression.