Spinal Radiculopathy

Cervical & Lumbar Nerve Root Irritation

Radiculopathy, or nerve root irritation, happens when there is pressure on a nerve. Causing pain and numbness, radiculopathy affects nerve roots in the upper back (cervical spine), mid-back (thoracic spine), and low back (lumbar spine). Learn more about spinal anatomy.

What Causes Radiculopathy?

Our spine allows us to move and turn our heads as well as bend and twist our bodies. But, like a door hinge we use repetitively, the spine suffers wear and tear over time. As the spine becomes worn, bone spurs and bulging discs (cushions between vertebrae) can form, putting undue pressure on spinal nerves.

Nerves are your body’s alarm system: signaling when something is wrong. With radiculopathy, the nerves send the brain a false alarm. An individual may feel pain in their leg, hand, arm or side when there is nothing wrong with those parts of the body. Instead, there is something wrong with their spine. Another example of this is a pinched cervical nerve, which causes pain or numbness in the arms when the problem is actually in the cervical spine (upper back).  

Radiculopathy Symptoms & Treatments

Treatment for Radiculopathy

Most people who experience radiculopathy recover without invasive procedures or intervention. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications like ibuprofen, Advil or Motrin can be used to control pain. Your physician may also prescribe oral steroids or physical therapy to ease the pain while the spinal nerves recover. Disc herniations often shrink on their own and, in many cases, patients recover completely.

When radiculopathy pain is persistent and severe, steroid injections or surgery are required. The goal of these treatments is to remove pressure from the affected spinal nerve. This can be achieved with a laminectomy (removing a small portion of the bone covering the nerve) or discectomy (removing the protruding portion of the disc).

Surgery to relieve cervical and lumbar radiculopathy has a high success rate. Successful surgery for thoracic radiculopathy is slightly lower since the procedure is more complex. After surgery for radiculopathy, recovery time is usually two to four weeks with no required physical therapy. In general, patients requiring surgery for radiculopathy obtain good results without long-term restrictions or disruption to everyday activities.

Request an Appointment with PBS

As one of the country’s leading neurosurgical practices, Princeton Brain, Spine & Sports Medicine provides skilled, experienced treatment for sciatica, cervical radiculopathy and thoracic radiculopathy. Delivering state-of-the-art care at our NJ and PA treatment campuses, we also partner with reputable area hospitals for minimally invasive and open surgery procedures. To request an appointment, call our NJ or PA locations or submit a request online.

To learn more about radiculopathy, read SpineUniverse’s Cervical Radiculopathy Treated Surgically on An Outpatient Basis,” which was peer-reviewed by PBSSM’s own Dr. McLaughlin. Also, see Dr. McLaughlin’s PubMed paper about radiculopathy.

Request an Appointment

Submit an appointment request on our patient portal or contact our New Jersey and Pennsylvania campuses to speak with a patient advocate.