Radiculopathy - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics (2023)

Radiculopathy is defined as pain and/or neurologic deficit in a specific nerve root distribution, including motor loss, sensory changes, and sometimes depression of reflexes.

From: Operative Techniques: Spine Surgery (Third Edition), 2018

Related terms:

  • Electromyography
  • Nerve Root
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Plexopathy
  • Lesion
  • Neuropathy
  • Intervertebral Disk Hernia
  • Spinal Cord Disease
  • Low Back Pain
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David C. Preston MD, in Electromyography and Neuromuscular Disorders, 2021

Nerve Conduction Studies

In patients with radiculopathy, nerve conduction studies typically are normal, and the electrodiagnosis is established with needle EMG (Box 32.1). Although some motor conductionabnormalities are occasionally seen in radiculopathy, the more important reason to perform nerve conduction studies is to exclude other conditions that may mimic radiculopathy, especially entrapment neuropathy and plexopathy. In cases of upper extremity lesions, ulnar neuropathy at the elbow and CTS must be excluded. Ulnar neuropathy and C8 radiculopathy both can present with pain in the arm associated with numbness of the little and ring fingers. Likewise, pain in the arm with paresthesias involving the thumb, index, and middle fingers may be seen in C6–C7 radiculopathy and CTS. In the case of lower extremity symptoms, one must exclude peroneal neuropathy at the fibular neck. Both peroneal palsy and L5 radiculopathy may present with pain in the leg, accompanied by foot drop and paresthesias over the dorsum of the foot and lateral calf. In more severe cases, the clinical differentiation between a radiculopathy and a common entrapment usually is straightforward. In mild or early cases, however, the distinction often is more difficult, and nerve conduction studies are useful to either demonstrate or exclude an entrapment neuropathy.

Depending on the underlying pathophysiology and the level of the lesion, abnormalities occasionally may be seen on routine motor conduction and F response studies in radiculopathy. If the pathophysiology is predominantly demyelinating, the underlying axons remain intact. In that case, any motor study, stimulating and recording distally, will show a normal latency, conduction velocity, and compound muscle action potential (CMAP) amplitude. The only possible abnormality will be in the F responses. Because the F responses assess conduction both distally and proximally, abnormal F responses with normal distal conduction studies suggest a proximal lesion, either in the proximal nerve, plexus, or roots. Of course, F waves will be abnormal only if the recorded muscle is innervated by the affected nerve roots.

In the upper extremity, F waves are routinely recorded only for the median and ulnar nerves, which are C8–T1 innervated. Thus median and ulnar F-wave abnormalities may be seen in C8–T1 radiculopathy; however, these roots are infrequently affected by disc or bone impingement,the most common causes of radiculopathy. A radiculopathy at C5, C6, or C7, which are more common sites of root impingement, will not be reflected in the median or ulnar F responses. The situation is different in the lower extremities. The distally recorded peroneal and tibial muscles (extensor digitorum brevis, abductor hallucis brevis) are innervated predominantly by the L5 and S1 nerve roots, respectively. These levels are often affected by radiculopathy. Thus in L5–S1 radiculopathies, peroneal and tibial F responses may be prolonged, especially in comparison with the contralateral side.


Geraint Fuller MA MD FRCP, Mark Manford BSc MBBS MD FRCP, in Neurology (Third Edition), 2010

Symptoms and signs

Radiculopathy presents with pain, weakness, reflex changes and sensory loss (the pattern of loss for the most commonly affected roots is given in Fig. 4):

Pain radiates from the spine in the distribution of the affected nerve root. In disc prolapse, the onset is often acute and may be related to physical exertion. With mechanical causes, the pain is made worse by manoeuvres that increase intraspinal pressure: coughing, sneezing or straining. Moving the limb to stretch the nerve root exacerbates the pain (Fig. 5). Spinal tenderness and restriction of movement are common but are non-specific as they occur in mechanical back pain without radiculopathy.

Weakness and reflex changes. There may be loss of function in the distribution of the nerve root. This manifests as weakness of muscles innervated by that root and alteration or loss of sensation in a dermatomal distribution. There may be wasting or fasciculation of the muscles innervated by that root with loss of reflexes.

Sensory loss or altered sensation in the distribution of the affected nerve root.

In addition, upper motor neurone signs or sensory signs below the level of the radiculopathy in the cervical spine imply compression of the spinal cord as well as the nerve roots: ‘myeloradiculopathy’ (p. 80).


Involvement of more than one nerve root cannot be caused by mechanical disease such as a disc protrusion at only one level, except where multiple roots travel together in the cauda equina (central disc prolapse; see below). Polyradiculopathy implies an inflammatory process, such as Guillain–Barré syndrome (p. 104), inflammatory meningitis, for example sarcoidosis, or a neoplastic process within the spinal fluid, a malignant meningitis, infiltrating the nerve roots with lesions at multiple levels.

(Video) Cervical Radiculopathy - Why do you hurt and what is the plan to get you better?

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Disorders of Nerve Roots and Plexuses

Joseph Jankovic MD, in Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice, 2022

Disorders of Nerve Roots

The spinal nerve roots serve as the transition from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system (CNS). Each spinal nerve is derived from anterior (ventral) and posterior (dorsal) nerve roots; the anterior roots carrying efferent motor information from anterior horn cells of the spinal cord, and the posterior nerve roots carrying afferent sensory information as the central axons of the pseudo-unipolar dorsal root ganglia cells. Both anterior and posterior nerve roots are susceptible to diseases specific to their location and to many of the disorders that affect peripheral nerves in general. Although surrounded by a rigid bony canal, they are delicate structures subject to compression and stretching. Bathed by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), they may be exposed to infectious, inflammatory, and neoplastic processes that involve the leptomeninges. Separated from the blood by an incomplete blood–nerve barrier, the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons may be injured by circulating neurotoxins.

In the clinical sphere, it is usually not difficult to recognize symptoms or signs attributable to lesions of a single nerve root. Radicular pain and paresthesias are accompanied by sensory loss in thedermatome (the area of skin innervated by a nerve root), weakness in themyotome (defined as muscles innervated by a spinal cord segment and its nerve root), and diminished deep tendon reflex activity subserved by the nerve root in question. However, when multiple roots are involved by a disease process(polyradiculopathy) the clinical picture may resemble a disorder of the peripheral nerves, as in a polyneuropathy, or of the anterior horn cells, as in the progressive muscular atrophy form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In these complicated clinical settings, clinicians may often turn to serological, radiological, and electrodiagnostic studies to aid in diagnosis.

A disorder of the nerve roots is favored by abnormalities of the CSF (raised protein concentration and pleocytosis), paraspinal muscle needle electromyographic (EMG) examination (presence of positive sharp waves and fibrillation potentials), and spinal cord magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (compromise or contrast enhancement of the nerve roots per se).

The sections that follow cover some anatomical features relevant to an understanding of the pathological conditions that affect the nerve roots, as well as specific nerve root disorders.

Anatomical Features

Each nerve root is attached to the spinal cord by four to eight rootlets that are splayed out in a longitudinal direction (Rankine, 2004). The dorsal rootlets are attached to the spinal cord at a well-defined posterolateral sulcus, whereas the ventral rootlets are more widely separated and emerge over a greater area of the anterior surface of the spinal cord. For each spinal cord segment, a pair of dorsal and ventral roots unite just beyond the DRG to form a short mixed spinal nerve that divides into a thin dorsal ramus and a thicker ventral ramus (Fig. 105.1). The dorsal ramus innervates the deep posterior muscles of the neck and trunk (the paraspinal muscles) and the skin overlying these areas. The ventral ramus, depending on its spinal segment, contributes to an intercostal nerve, or to the cervical, brachial, or lumbosacral plexi and thereby supplies the trunk or limb muscles.


K. Levin, in Encyclopedia of the Neurological Sciences (Second Edition), 2014

Thoracic Radiculopathy

Thoracic radiculopathies are uncommon compared with those occurring at the cervical and lumbosacral levels. They are also less likely to occur as the result of the usual spondylotic changes of aging because thoracic spinal movement is minimized by the rib cage. Single and multiple thoracic radiculopathies are seen in a number of clinical settings, and the relative proportion of occurrences due to underlying medical conditions is high.

The classic symptoms of thoracic radiculopathy are radicular, with pain that emanates from the spine and courses around the back to the abdomen in a nearly linear pattern, although the pain may be confined to the thoracic spine. Paresthesia and numbness may be experienced in the same distribution. In some patients, the symptoms are fragmentary, affecting the abdominal segment of the nerve root distribution more than, or to the exclusion of, the back and flank or vice versa. Valsalva maneuvers may induce radiating symptoms, and Lhermitte's symptoms may be induced with back movement. When large structural lesions are to blame, thoracic radiculopathy may be accompanied by symptoms of myelopathy, such as leg weakness and numbness, and sphincter incontinence.

The findings on examination are often inconclusive because features of muscle weakness, when present, are difficult to elicit. When focal and in the T8–T12 distribution, weakness may be manifested by asymmetrical outward bulging of the abdominal wall as a sign of segmental rectus abdominus weakness. The sensory examination may disclose loss of sensation over the involved segmental distributions.

Diagnostic confirmation of thoracic radiculopathy may require a number of studies in the hope that one will support the clinical impression. The needle electrode portion of the EMG examination is very useful when there is significant axon loss in the motor segment of the thoracic root involved, even in the absence of clinical weakness. The finding of fibrillation potentials in the thoracic paraspinal muscles should be followed up with an examination of rectus abdominus muscles in the same segmental distributions. Identification of active or chronic axon loss changes in rectus abdominus muscles adds specificity to the paraspinal findings because paraspinal fibrillation potentials may be seen in a wide range of focal and generalized neuromuscular processes. MRI scans of the thoracic spine are important to evaluate for focal intraspinal structural lesions, such as disk herniation, epidural masses, and intramedullary cord lesions.

The leading cause of thoracic radiculopathy in North America is diabetes mellitus. Aside from distal polyneuropathy, which is the most common neurological complication of diabetes, weakness and sensory loss in thoracic, lumbar, and sacral root distributions may also develop. Although diabetic thoracic radiculopathy is often associated with concurrent evidence of distal polyneuropathy and weakness in lumbosacral root distributions, it may also present alone. Other causes of thoracic radiculopathy include intraspinal structural lesions such as disk herniation; extradural tumors such as schwannomas, neurofibromas, and meningiomas; and metastatic leptomeningeal deposits. Infectious causes include herpes zoster, Lyme disease, and syphilis.

Management of thoracic radiculopathy should be tailored to the underlying cause, when obvious. The most common thoracic radiculopathies – those associated with diabetes and herpes zoster – are often characterized by severe pain that is disabling, prominent at night, and persistent for weeks or months. Narcotic analgesia is often required but is not sufficient. Anticonvulsants that decrease nerve membrane excitability, such as gabapentin and carbamazepine, have been useful in some cases, as have tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline. Eventually, the most severe pain dissipates, although in some cases of postherpetic neuralgia the pain may become chronic.

(Video) Lumbar Radiculopathy: Treating Pain and Numbness in Legs

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Clinical–Electrophysiologic Correlations : Overview and Common Patterns

David C. Preston MD, in Electromyography and Neuromuscular Disorders, 2021


Radiculopathy is one of the patterns seen most frequently in the EMG laboratory. Because the lesion is proximal to the dorsal root ganglia,sensory conduction studies are always normal in radiculopathy. Motor conductions also are normal, unless muscles used for recording are innervated by the involved nerve roots and the radiculopathy is fairly severe, in which case low CMAP amplitudes may be seen. This is the case in the median and ulnar motor studies for C8–T1 radiculopathy, and in the peroneal and tibial motor studies for L5–S1 radiculopathy. These motor studies may show changes consistent with axonal loss.

Each nerve root supplies a segment of paraspinal muscles before innervating limb muscles, usually by way of several different peripheral nerves. Accordingly, radiculopathy is recognized on needle EMG by a pattern of neuropathic abnormalities that share the same nerve root innervation (i.e., myotomal pattern). Abnormalities usually are expected in distal and proximal limb muscles innervated by the same nerve root but by different nerves. In addition, abnormalities in the paraspinal muscles are key in helping to recognize a radiculopathy. For example, in a C7 radiculopathy, boththe flexor carpi radialis (a median-innervated C7 muscle) and triceps (a radial-innervated C7 muscle) may be abnormal, as well as the cervical paraspinal muscles. As with other axonal loss lesions, it is important to remember that the specific neuropathic abnormalities vary, depending on the time course of the radiculopathy.

Radiculopathies and Plexopathies

H. Royden JonesJr., ... Kerry H. Levin, in Neuromuscular Disorders of Infancy, Childhood, and Adolescence (Second Edition), 2015

Radiculopathies are very rare in childhood and adolescence. Most pediatric radiculopathies predominantly involve the lumbosacral nerve roots. Cervical radiculopathies are uncommon, but other conditions, such as congenital spinal stenosis, can mimic nerve root lesions in the cervical spine. Plexopathies are more common than radiculopathies in children. Neonatal brachial plexus palsy continues to be a challenge in the setting of complicated labor and childbirth. Most brachial and lumbar plexopathies in older children result from trauma, although occasionally cases are familial (caused by hereditary neuralgic amyotrophy or hereditary neuropathy with a tendency to pressure palsies) or postinfectious.

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(Video) Sciatica and Radiculopathy Podcast

Foot Drop

B. Katirji, in Encyclopedia of the Neurological Sciences (Second Edition), 2014

L5 radiculopathy

L5 radiculopathy is the most common lower extremity radiculopathy. This is partially due to long course of the L5 root within the cauda equina rendering it (along with the S1 root) susceptible to compression at multiple spinal levels. Although ankle and toe dorsiflexor weakness is common in patients with L5 radiculopathy, overt foot drop may be the presenting complaint in patients with severe L5 radiculopathy, associated with significant motor axon loss or segmental demyelination. With L5 root lesions, there is additional weakness of foot inversion and toe flexion that is not present in fibular nerve lesions.

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Demyelinating Disorders of the Peripheral Nervous System

Robert W. ShieldsJr., Asa J. Wilbourn, in Textbook of Clinical Neurology (Third Edition), 2007


CIDP is an apparent immune‐mediated disorder of the PNS. The term chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculopathy was coined to emphasize that the disorder is a chronic process that results in demyelination as well as an inflammatory cell response in peripheral nerves and spinal nerve roots; typically, there is a mononuclear cell infiltration involving the endoneurium and epineurium of peripheral nerve fibers.37 The predominant pathological feature is SD, although usually there is some degree of axon loss as well (Figs. 49‐3 and 49‐4). These pathological changes have been found to involve roots, plexuses, proximal nerve trunks, and, occasionally, cranial nerves and sympathetic trunks, as well as some autonomic nerves.38 The predilection for CIDP to involve roots and proximal nerve trunks is responsible for the prominent proximal weakness that may be encountered in this disorder and helps distinguish it from most other generalized polyneuropathies. The predominant involvement of myelin in CIDP results in a characteristic pattern of findings on EDX testing, including slowed nerve CV and conduction block; the latter process correlates with the clinical deficits. Also, the distinctive distribution of NCS abnormalities that may occur with acquired SD polyradiculopathies (already described) is often seen.10

The evidence that CIDP is immune‐mediated is compelling, although still somewhat inconclusive. In many respects, it is similar to the evidence advanced for AIDP being an immune‐mediated disorder. The onset or relapses of CIDP on occasion seem to be triggered by a preceding event, such as an infection or vaccination that could initiate an immune‐mediated response. In addition, most patients with CIDP respond to corticosteroids and other immunosuppressants, plasma exchange, and IVIG, therapies designed to treat immune‐mediated disorders. Furthermore, CIDP shares many clinical and pathological features with experimental models of immune‐mediated peripheral neuropathy, particularly EAN. This has led to speculation that the pathogenesis of CIDP is similar to that of AIDP and EAN. Lastly, the presence of immune‐effector cells and the deposition of antibody and complement on myelinated fibers is impressive but indirect evidence of an immune‐mediated process in which both cellular and humoral immune systems are operative.39

More recent studies have provided additional evidence of an immune‐mediated mechanism for CIDP. Passive transfer of sera and IgG from CIDP patients to experimental animals has resulted in histological and electrodiagnostic evidence of demyelination of peripheral nerve fibers.40 In addition, IgG antibodies directed at protein zero (P0), the major integral membrane protein of peripheral myelin, have been found in 28% of CIDP patients, and in two thirds of these patients, the sera caused conduction block and demyelination when injected into experimental animals.41

A disorder clinically similar to CIDP but with pathological and EDX features, indicating an axon loss process, has been reported.38 Whether this actually represents a so‐called axonal form of CIDP similar to the axonal form of GBS remains to be established.42

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(Video) Back to Basics: Lumbar Radiculopathy


Clinical Neuroanatomy

Brian D. Loftus MD, ... Igor M. Cherches MD, in Neurology Secrets (Fifth Edition), 2010

48 What are the common signs and symptoms of lumbar radiculopathies?

Lumbar radiculopathies cause back pain with radiation below the knee. The pain increases with a Valsalva maneuver or leg stretch (such as the straight leg raising test). Weakness or numbness may develop in the distribution of the involved root. An S1 radiculopathy diminishes ankle reflexes, whereas an L4 radiculopathy decreases knee reflexes. Statistically, an L5 radiculopathy is more common than S1, followed by L4. This is because the intervertebral discs at these levels are under greatest pressure from the curvature of normal lumbar lordosis and thus are most vulnerable to herniation and compression of the spinal roots.

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Electrodiagnostic Evaluation of Spinal Tumors

Barbara A. Landesman, Jaime R. López, in Tumors of the Spine, 2008


Dermatomal Somatosensory Evoked Potentials and Electromyography

Radiculopathies are usually caused by root compression. They are the most common cause of referral to the EMG laboratory.12 EMG has been shown to be of great utility and has been used in the evaluation of radiculopathies for more than 50 years.12

There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves attached to the spinal cord by dorsal (sensory) and ventral (motor) roots. The ventral roots originate from cells in the anterior and lateral gray columns of the cord; the dorsal roots originate from the DRG, which lie distal to the cord. Thus, sensory NCS, which do not assess the sensory roots proximal to the DRG, remain unchanged in radiculopathies. The dorsal and ventral roots join to form spinal nerves.12

The region of skin with sensory innervation from a single dorsal root constitutes a dermatome. The muscles that share innervation from a single ventral root constitute a myotome. Most muscles are made up of more than one myotome. Sensory fiber compromise alone is the most common clinical presentation of radiculopathies. Isolated motor dysfunction is the least common.12

However, in most patients with signs and symptoms of radiculopathy, the most efficient diagnostic test is MRI. Even though electrodiagnostic studies cannot provide an etiology, localization of the involved myotome can be detected by EMG.16

Although there are reports of DSSEPs being sensitive to changes in nerve root function,17 their value in diagnosing radiculopathy is questionable.8 For the detection of radiculopathies, EMG is more sensitive than DSSEPs.12 In the case of radiculopathies caused by spinal neoplasms, EMG may show early signs of denervation in the paraspinal musculature.18,19

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What is the most common radiculopathy? ›

The lower back is the most common area affected by radiculopathy. Thoracic radiculopathy: Thoracic radiculopathy is a pinched nerve that occurs in the upper region of the back, causing symptoms such as tingling, pain and numbness that can extend to the front of the body.

How many types of radiculopathy are there? ›

Radiculopathy can cause pain, numbness and tingling along a pinched nerve in your back. There are three types of radiculopathy — cervical, thoracic and lumbar.

What is objective evidence of radiculopathy? ›

Clinical evidence of chronic radiculopathy might include motor weakness, muscle atrophy, impaired sharp–dull discrimination, and/or abnormal electrodiagnostic tests, provided the findings are persistent and there are reflex abnormalities.

What is another word for radiculopathy? ›

Radiculopathy, also commonly referred to as pinched nerve, refers to a set of conditions in which one or more nerves are affected and do not work properly (a neuropathy). Radiculopathy can result in pain (radicular pain), weakness, altered sensation (paresthesia) or difficulty controlling specific muscles.

What is the best treatment for radiculopathy? ›

Radiculopathy Treatment

Medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, opioid medicines or muscle relaxants, to manage the symptoms. Weight loss strategies to reduce pressure on the problem area. Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and prevent further damage.

How do you diagnose radiculopathy? ›

In most cases, radiculopathy can be diagnosed with a thorough medical examination.
  1. X-ray (also known as plain films): test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams (X-rays) to produce images of bones. ...
  2. Magnetic resonance (MR) scans: these scans clearly show soft tissues like discs and nerve roots.

What's the difference between neuropathy and radiculopathy? ›

Neuropathy and radiculopathy are similar in that they are both conditions that relate to nerve damage, and their symptoms are similar. However, while radiculopathy is caused by the pinching of root nerves of the spinal column, neuropathy is damage or malfunction of peripheral nerves.

Is radiculopathy a neurological condition? ›

Radiculopathy is a state of neurological loss and may or may not be associated with radicular pain. Radicular pain is pain deriving from damage or irritation of the spinal nerve tissue, particularly the dorsal root ganglion.

What type of pain is radiculopathy? ›

The most common symptoms of radiculopathy are pain, numbness, and tingling in the arms or legs. It is common for patients to also have localized neck or back pain as well. Lumbar radiculopathy that causes pain that radiates down a lower extremity is commonly referred to as sciatica.

Is radiculopathy reversible? ›

Most radiculopathy symptoms go away with conservative treatment—for example, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, and avoiding activity that strains the neck or back. Symptoms often improve within 6 weeks to 3 months.

What is the surgery for radiculopathy? ›

Anterior Cervical Diskectomy and Fusion (ACDF) ACDF is the most commonly performed procedure to treat cervical radiculopathy. The procedure involves removing the problematic disk or bone spurs and then stabilizing the spine through spinal fusion.

Can radiculopathy be caused by stress? ›

Cervical radiculopathy in younger people is more often caused by physical trauma or repetitive stress, resulting in a herniated disc. This places pressure on a nerve root, causing pain to radiate out to the affected areas.

What is correlation for radiculopathy? ›

One form of correlation is that the patient's complaints in the extremities, if present, should match the spinal level of the disc abnormality. For example, a patient may present with radiating leg pain that is due to a diseased disc compressing a spinal nerve root: a so-called radiculopathy.

How does physical therapy help radiculopathy? ›

Radiculopathy physical therapy involves strengthening yours core and back muscles to better support your spine. It is a great option for patients looking for relief from radiculopathy symptoms who do not want to resort to surgery unless necessary.

Is radiculopathy genetic? ›

Radiculopathy is most often caused by a pinched or compressed nerve. Although most commonly caused by aging, radiculopathy is also associated with injury, illness, poor body mechanics and genetic factors.

Is radiculopathy a disease? ›

Lumbar radiculopathy is an inflammation of a nerve root in the lower back, which causes symptoms of pain or irritation in the back and down the legs. This condition usually involves the sciatic nerve and therefore is also called sciatica.

Is radiculopathy considered neuropathic pain? ›

Spinal disorders, including radiculopathy due to disc herniation, spinal stenosis, or spinal cord injury, are common causes of neuropathic pain.

Does exercise help radiculopathy? ›

Lumbar radiculopathy, which some people call sciatica, is often attributed to lower back pain, butt pain, and leg pain. Exercises to strengthen your core or increase flexibility can help with pain reduction and improved mobility.

Can an MRI show radiculopathy? ›

MRI is considered to be the diagnostic tool of choice in diagnosing nerve root compromise among patients presenting with clinical suspicion of lumbo-sacral radiculopathy.

Does massage help radiculopathy? ›

Your physical therapist also may gently massage the muscles of your cervical spine and shoulder blade area. This helps your muscles relax and improves circulation to promote healing and pain relief.

Can you improve radiculopathy? ›

Certain types of radiculopathy can sometimes be managed with nonsurgical treatments. These treatments may include: Physical therapy to strengthen the back muscles and the core to better support the spine. Medication, such as pain relievers, muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatory drugs, to reduce pain and inflammation.

Can radiculopathy be resolved? ›

Over 85% of acute cervical radiculopathy resolves without any specific treatments within 8-12 weeks. Over 85% of acute cervical radiculopathy resolves without any specific treatments within 8-12 weeks.

Why is radiculopathy worse at night? ›

When you lay down, the weight of your body may put pressure on your nerves in ways that it doesn't when you're upright. This is particularly common with sciatica and other chronic pain caused by pinched or compressed nerves.

What happens if radiculopathy is left untreated? ›

The longer a person leaves radiculopathy untreated, the higher the risk is for their damage and symptoms to become permanent. In fact, in severe cases, paralysis may occur if radiculopathy is left untreated for an extended period of time.

What is L4 L5 radiculopathy? ›

When a nerve at the L4-5 or L5-S1 level is affected (bottom two levels), this dermatome is usually the sciatic nerve, which runs down the back of each leg to the foot. Radicular pain may also be accompanied by numbness and tingling, muscle weakness and loss of specific reflexes.

Is radiculopathy an inflammation? ›

What is radiculopathy? Radiculopathy is a pinching or inflammation of a nerve at its exit point from the spine, called the neural foramen.

What can a neurologist do for radiculopathy? ›

The responsibility of a neurologist is to develop the best possible therapeutic plan for people to regain sensation and relieve pain. Treatment may include physical therapy, medication, surgery, injections into the affected area to provide relief from pain, or spinal cord stimulation.

Who treats radiculopathy? ›

Although radiculopathy may be suspected or diagnosed by the person's primary care physician, the condition should be treated by an experienced neurosurgeon. Within neurosurgery, there are sub-specialists whose expertise in treating conditions of the spine.

What is the difference between radiculopathy and sciatica? ›

Radiculopathy is the term used to describe the symptoms of nerve root irritation, which can include pain, numbness, tingling and weakness. Sciatica refers to a common type of radiculopathy that results in pain from the back to the buttocks and or legs.

Is radiculopathy life threatening? ›

Radiculopathy isn't life threatening, but it can cause problems with daily living. This includes dealing with problems from weakness and lack of sensation. You may find that walking and balance are difficult with lumbar radiculopathy.

When is surgery needed for radiculopathy? ›

Surgical Options for Cervical Radiculopathy from a Herniated Cervical Disc. Surgery for cervical radiculopathy from a herniated disc should only be considered in those cases when 6 to 12 weeks of nonsurgical treatment fails to relieve neurological deficits in the arm, such as pain, numbness, and/or weakness.

What is radiculopathy caused by? ›

Degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis most commonly cause radiculopathy. However, a variety of conditions or injuries can cause it, including : herniated discs. spinal stenosis, a condition where the spinal canal narrows.

Is radiculopathy the same as back pain? ›

Radicular back pain is one of the common reasons for low back pain. The definition of acute lumbosacral radiculopathy is a diffuse disease process that affects more than one underlying nerve root, causing pain, loss of sensation, and motor function depending on the severity of symptoms.

Is walking good for radiculopathy? ›

Stay active around the house, and go on short walks several times per day. Movement will decrease your pain and stiffness, and help you feel better. Apply ice packs to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.

Is chronic radiculopathy a disability? ›

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will find an individual is disabled due to lumbar radiculopathy if their medical impairments meet the following criteria: Radicular symptoms resulting from compromise of the affected nerve root including pain, paresthesia (numbness) or muscle fatigue.

Does radiculopathy cause muscle weakness? ›

Radiculopathy usually creates a pattern of pain and numbness that is felt in your arms or your legs in the area of the skin that's supplied the by the sensory fibers of the nerve root, and weakness in the muscles that are also supplied by the same nerve root.

Is radiculopathy motor or sensory? ›

Radiculopathy is defined as pain and/or neurologic deficit in a specific nerve root distribution, including motor loss, sensory changes, and sometimes depression of reflexes.

Is heat good for radiculopathy? ›

Applying heat to the neck or other sore area can provide relief for some people. Typically, ice should be used during the first day or two (no more than 20 minutes at a time) because it can help prevent inflammation. After that initial period, heat or ice can be used depending on the patient's preference.

What cervical radiculopathy is most common? ›

Epidemiologic studies have shown that the C7 root (C6-7 herniation) is the most commonly affected, followed by the C6 (C5-6 herniation) and C8 (C7-T1 herniation) nerve roots. Impingement of the nerve root by disc material likely leads to nerve damage both by mechanical and chemical pathways.

What are the symptoms of L4 L5 nerve damage? ›

What Are The Symptoms of L4-L5 Damage?
  • Sharp pain that begins in the lower back and moves down the leg.
  • Weakness in the leg with motion.
  • Numbness in the leg, foot, and/or toes.
  • Tingling and/or pins-and-needles sensation along the sciatic nerve.
6 Oct 2022

What causes L5 S1 radiculopathy? ›

In most cases, it is caused by compression of one of the nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve, usually the last lumbar nerve root ― L5 ― or the first sacral nerve root ― S1 ― as they exit the spine. The term "pinched nerve" is commonly used when describing the condition.

What are 4 of the main causes of cervical radiculopathy? ›

  • Cervical Radiculopathy ("Pinched Nerve") When a nerve root leaves the spinal cord and the cervical spine it travels down into the arm. ...
  • Pinched nerve from a herniated disc. ...
  • Pinched nerve from degeneration and bone spurs. ...
  • Medication. ...
  • Physical Therapy.

What triggers cervical radiculopathy? ›

Cervical radiculopathy is often caused by "wear and tear" changes that occur in the spine as we age, such as arthritis. In younger people, it is most often caused by a sudden injury that results in a herniated disk. In some cases, however, there is no traumatic episode associated with the onset of symptoms.

How do you test for radiculopathy? ›

The foraminal compression test, or Spurling test, is probably the best test for confirming the diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy. It is performed by positioning the patient with the neck extended and the head rotated, and then applying downward pressure on the head.

What nerves are affected by L4-L5-S1? ›

The sacral plexus is formed by the lumbosacral trunk (L4 and L5) and sacral nerves S1, S2, and S3. The main nerves arising from the sacral plexus are the sciatic, posterior femoral cutaneous, and pudendal nerves. The lower part of the sacral plexus is sometimes referred to as the pudendal plexus.

What happens if the L5 nerve is damaged? ›


A pinched L5 nerve root usually results in radiating pain in the foot. This pain can come in the form of numbness, tingling, weakness and shooting and is commonly felt in the big toe, inside of the foot, top of the foot and ankle.

What nerves does L5-S1 affect? ›

A herniated L5-S1 disc can press and impinge nerves and the spinal cord. This compression can lead to discomfort, aches, and pains in the back, buttocks, hips, thighs, legs feet, or toes. It may also cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in the thighs, legs, knees, ankles, feet, or toes.

What are the symptoms of L5-S1 nerve damage? ›

Common Symptoms and Signs Stemming from L5-S1
  • Pain, generally felt as a sharp, shooting, and/or searing feeling in the buttock, thigh, leg, foot, and/or toes.
  • Numbness in the foot and/or toes.
  • Weakness in the leg and/or foot muscles and an inability to lift the foot off the floor (foot drop)

What part of the body does L5 affect? ›

L5 spinal nerve provides sensation to the outer side of your lower leg, the upper part of your foot and the space between your first and second toe. This nerve also controls hip, knee, foot and toe movements.

What is the best treatment for L5-S1? ›

Treatment of L5-S1 usually begins with: Medication. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually tried first for pain stemming from L5-S1. For more severe pain, prescription medication, such as opioids, tramadol, and/or corticosteroids may be used.

Why is L5-S1 so common? ›

Over time, the discs in the spine undergo wear and tear due to repetitive movements. This process is absolutely normal and is a part of aging and happens with everyone. L5-S1 bulging discs are most common as they take the stress and weight of the body.

Is L5-S1 disc bulge permanent? ›

Disc bulges are not permanent. The disc is a fluid filled structure and therefore has the capacity to heal, resolve and be re-absorbed.


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