Radiculopathy is the inflammation or irritation of the spinal nerve roots. It is felt along the surface of the nerve but the sensation varies depending on whether it is sensory or mixed in nature.

Spinal nerve roots are affected by spinal column conditions such as:

  • Spinal disc herniation. This is the most common cause of symptoms in the spinal nerve roots.
  • Changes linked to spondylosis or incorrect alignment of vertebrae
  • Osteophytosis, also known as ‘spurs’
  • Injury to the vertebrae region – vertebrae fracture, road accidents (whiplash), etc.

Symptoms vary depending on where the condition originates and need to be taken into account during treatment. We will look at the three sections of the spinal column, i.e. the cervical, thoracic and lumbar.

Cervical radiculitis

Affects the head, neck, shoulder and arm. When sensory nerves are affected a tingling sensation is felt, as well as pain across the nerve and heightened sensitivity when touching objects. In mixed nerves, muscle weakness and hypotrophy of the muscles innervated by the respective nerve may be observed, along with the abovementioned symptoms. Some frequent localisations of cervical radiculopathy are:

  • C6- radiculopathy – symptoms of pain, tingling or numbness are localised along the arm and spread to the thumb, but may include a smaller part of the area.
  • C7- radiculopathy – the part of the hand which extends to the index finger and middle finger is affected.
  • C8- radiculopathy – the surface behind the hand is affected, and pain or tingling spreads to the ring or little fingers.

Thoracal or lumbar radiculitis

A common symptom typical of this region is sharp pain upon inhalation or shooting pains in the thorax region. Usually only one side is affected. Often when it’s the left side, the patient believes they have a heart condition.

Lumbar radiculopathy

The lumbar spine is affected and symptoms often occur at the backside and the affected leg. There may be a tingling sensation, numbness, muscle weakness and hypotrophy of some muscles or paresis. The most common complaints are:

  • L4 – sensation is felt at the front of the thigh near the knee, laterally on the lower leg on the big toe side.
  • L5 – felt on the exterior of the thigh and lower leg
  • S1 – felt on the rear side of the thigh and lower leg, near the Achilles tendon and little toe.

Diagnosis is made based on various tests and spine scans – X-ray, scanner or MRI.

Treating radiculopathy – it’s always better to start off small. Medication will be used if the pain is very strong and may be combined with physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy aims to reduce the inflammation, improve the mobility of the segment in question and decompress the nerve roots. Exercises and stretching for strengthening the muscles and prevention of future onset are also used .