Also known as lumbar radiculopathy, cervical radiculopathy, radicular pain, pinched nerve, sciatica, herniated intervertebral disc, prolapsed intervertebral disc, ruptured disc, slipped disc, degenerative disc, extruded disc, and annular tears.
What is Radiculopathy
Definition: Sciatica, or radiculopathy (also known as radiculitis) is an abnormality affecting the root of the large spinal nerve at the level of spinal column. The term radiculopathy is derived from the combination of radix, which means root, and -opathy, which means abnormal.
Overview: The spinal column is separated into four parts, the cervical spine (or neck area), the thoracic spine (runs along the back of the chest), the lumbar spine (lower back) and the sacral spine (becomes a part of the pelvis). The vertebrae are circular bones that form the spinal column which run down the back connecting the skull to the pelvis. The spinal cord and spinal nerves are protected inside the spinal column. The spinal nerves, called nerve roots, exit from the spinal cord and travel out of the spinal canal through small openings in the bones of the spinal vertebrae called foramen. Normally, there is enough room in the spinal canal and foramen to allow unimpeded passage of these nerve roots even with different positions of the spinal column.
When diseases such as herniated intervertral discs, degenerative joint disease of the joints of the spine, known as facet joints, or fractures of the spine column, the nerve roots may be irritated, compressed, or pinched in the spinal column. This condition is referred to as radiculitis. When the nerve root is damaged, this process is referred to as radiculopathy. At this point, the sufferer may experience pain, numbness or weakness at any point along the course of the involved nerve. For example, if a nerve in the cervical spine is involved, called cervical radiculopathy, the pain, numbness and weakness may not only be in the neck, but radiate into the upper back, shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. Cervical radiculopathy may even result in headaches. On the other hand, if the nerves of the lumbar spine are involved, pain, numbness and weakness may radiate into the groin, genitalia, legs, ankles, heals, or toes. Since the sciatic nerve is formed by the roots of the nerves from the lumbar spine, the medical condition known as sciatica is actually a result of lumbar radiculopathy in most cases. Radiculopathy may result in severe pain and disability. Victims may have difficulty walking or standing. Even sexual dysfunction, also known as erectile dysfunction, urinary or bowel incontinence may develop.
The usual treatments are often too much, frequently too dangerous and rarely enough. The standard treatments for pain due to sciatica or radiculopathy are over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription narcotic and non-narcotic medication, rest, physical therapy, steroid injections, and traction. As most patients who suffer with this type of pain soon realize, these treatments are usually not sufficient and many, especially the oral medications, are associated with serious side effects such as sedation, nausea, constipation, and even addiction. Extended use of some medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen may even result in stomach ulcers, kidney failure, heart failure, and liver failure. Many sufferers with pain due to radiculopathy often search for alternative solutions to the usual over-the-counter and prescription medications. Surgery may be required when the excruciating pain does not resolve or when severe nerve damage is evident.
Sudden severe pain, especially in the chest, arms, or head, pain associated with fever, numbness or weakness, or pain in any area of the body that does not resolve after a couple of weeks, should always be evaluated by a physician to be certain that other medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, infections, or even cancer is not the underlying cause of pain.
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