You know it by “pinched nerve,” sciatica, or your grandmother’s “lumbago,” but you may not know the medical term: “radiculopathy.”
Radiculopathy occurs when surrounding structures, such as bone spurs or intervertebral disc material, compress a nerve root in the spinal canal. When compressed, the nerve sends out pain signals that travel from the root down the entire length of the nerve into an extremity. You may experience this type of pain at any point along the nerve’s length.
Radiculopathy affects some 85 out of 100,000 American adults each year. It can happen at any age because of injury or even genetics; however, the risks increase as you get older because age-related osteoarthritis (OA) and degenerative disc disease (DDD) in the spine are common causes.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Richard Bernstein understands how uncomfortable radiculopathy can be. He offers state-of-the-art treatment options, including the SpineMED® platform. Here, he describes how radiculopathy manifests and how he can treat it.
Your spine, in brief
Your spine comprises 24 bony vertebrae, each connected by two pairs of small facet joints above and below the vertebrae. Between the vertebrae lie cushiony discs that act as shock absorbers when you walk, run, or jump, allowing for a wide range of motion.
The backbone structure lines up in a (mostly) vertical fashion, with an “S”-shaped curve when viewed from the side; both components work together to allow you to stand up straight. Inside this spinal column is the spinal canal, a space through which spinal nerves run, exiting between holes (foramina) in the vertebrae and extending into all the peripheral areas of your body.
If anything narrows the canal or the foramina, a spinal nerve’s root can become compressed or pinched, leading to shooting pain.
Common causes of radiculopathy include:
- OA (age-related wear-and-tear)
- DDD (the discs dehydrate and flatten, pushing into the canal space)
- Bulging or herniated discs (from age or injury)
- Bone spurs (bony growths that develop from bone grating on bone)
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the canal space)
You feel the pain where the nerve root is located in the spine and the body part into which the nerve extends.
Help for radiculopathy
How we treat radiculopathy depends on what’s causing the impingement. At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, we always start with conservative choices.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories — including ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen — can help reduce the part of the pain caused by inflammation of the structures impinging on the nerve root.
Physical therapy is a great place to start. During your sessions, you learn specific stretching and strengthening exercises that ease joint stiffness, release muscle tension, and alleviate nerve compression.
Your therapist also creates an at-home exercise program so you can improve upon your results, and they modify the day-to-day activities that aggravate your nerve pain to give you relief.
Spinal decompression is a noninvasive, nonsurgical procedure that relieves back and neck pain stemming from radiculopathy. If the spinal discs become dehydrated or damaged and push into the spinal canal, they can’t heal by themselves because the discs are under constant pressure.
The decompression process reduces the pressure inside the discs; allows fluids, nutrients, and oxygen back into the disc space; and causes bulging or herniated discs to retract.
SpineMED can be used for problems with the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) spine.
If you experience shooting pain that runs from your back into an extremity, the cause may be a compressed nerve root in your spine. Santa Cruz Osteopathic can help. Call our office at 831-464-1605 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Bernstein, or book online today.