What is radiculopathy?

In medicine, the term radiculopathy refers to the set of conditions caused by problems with the peripheral nerve root just at the exit of the spinal cord or close to it.

Among its most frequent causes is pressure on the vertebrae of the spine, hence radiculopathy is known as “pinched nerves”.

As a consequence of radiculopathy, the affected nerves do not function properly and a neuropathy with various symptoms such as pain, weakness, numbness or difficulty controlling certain muscles and parts of the body.


The spinal column is made up of 33 vertebrae that protect the spinal cord from injury and trauma.

The 33 vertebrae are held together and articulated by a system of muscles, tendons and ligaments that enable the human body to stand and flex, bend and twist.

Nerves of the peripheral nervous system are born in the spinal cord. These nerves leave the spine at different heights and travel to other areas of the body, such as the arms or legs.

Between each vertebra and neighboring vertebrae are intervertebral discs that allow articulation between the vertebrae with minimal vertebra-vertebra friction.

When an injury, trauma, or other problem occurs that causes damage to the intervertebral discs, nearby nerve roots are subjected to abnormal compression, and this compression is the most common cause of radiculopathy.

This injury to the intervertebral discs can also be a result of poor postural hygiene maintained over time or chronic (repetitive postures and movements, poor weight lifting techniques, etc.).

The spine is divided into several regions (cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral), with the cervical and lumbar regions most often affected by radiculopathy.

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By age, the highest frequency of radiculopathy occurs between 30 and 50 years.

most frequent causes

The causes of radiculopathy are numerous and of very diverse origin, having in common that all of them damage or deteriorate in some way the vertebrae, intervertebral discs or other structures of the spine.

Among the most frequent causes we have:

Herniated disc: This occurs when an intervertebral disc has bulges that press on nerve roots. If the bulge ruptures, a proper herniated disc occurs. Sciatica degenerative disc diseases Bone spurs (osteophytes) spinal tumors spinal arthritis spinal stenosis (narrowed spinal canal, very painful disease) Scoliosis (deviated spine) Vertebral Compression Fractures Diabetes (can cause blood supply to nerves to be altered) Spondylolisthesis (occurs when a vertebra moves and is supported by the internal vertebra) cauda equina syndrome (compression of the distal roots of the sacral, lumbar, and coccygeal nerves, in the region of the cauda equina or “cauda equina”) Herniated intervertebral disc presses on the roots nerves and causes radiculopathy

Risk factors

In addition to the diseases and conditions listed above, there are certain factors associated with an increased risk of radiculopathy.

The deterioration of bone tissues that occurs with age also affects the spine, therefore, with age, there is a greater risk of developing radiculopathy due to mechanical causes (spinal deviation, herniated disc, spur, etc.).

Excess weight and poor postural hygiene are also risk factors for mechanical types of radiculopathy.

Among poor postural hygiene, daily movements and activities performed in the work environment stand out, as they involve movements and loads on the spine that are repeated daily for long periods of time. The magnitude of this problem is such that postural hygiene in the work environment is a field that fits into work safety plans.

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Other causes may originate from genetic predisposition, hence a family history of degenerative bone diseases is another important risk factor.


Pain is the main symptom and often radiates to areas of the body supplied by the affected nerves. For example, neck radiculopathy can cause arm pain and weakness (radiating pain should not be confused with reflex pain, whose cause and pathophysiological mechanism are very different).

Cervical radiculopathy: This occurs when the nerves in the neck and upper back are compressed. Symptoms include pain, numbness, and tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, and/or upper back. Thoracic Radiculopathy: The pinched or irritated nerves are located in the mid-back area. It produces chest and trunk pain, numbness and tingling, stabbing pain in the ribs and abdomen. It is uncommon and is sometimes confused with symptoms of shingles or problems with the heart, bladder, and other abdominal organs. Lumbar radiculopathy: Also called sciatica, it produces pain in the lower back, legs, and hips. The pain can be localized or radiate from the lower back to the foot. It may be accompanied by numbness in the buttocks, feet or legs. The nerves that innervate the bowel and bladder can also be affected and cause fecal and urinary incontinence.

Diagnosis, treatment and prevention

The diagnosis of a radiculopathy is usually based on a physical examination AND symptomatology, and is usually confirmed by X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and other imaging techniques. imaging diagnosis.

The main treatment of radiculopathy consists of physical therapy, muscle strengthening exercises and, if necessary, analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication.

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Depending on the severity and specific conditions of the patient, the drugs used can be NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.), corticosteroids or, in the most severe cases, opioid analgesics.

In some cases, doctors may recommend surgery to repair a herniated intervertebral disc, bone spur, or other mechanical cause of radiculopathy.

To prevent the appearance of radiculopathies, it is very important to maintain good postural hygiene in daily life. This includes good posture in the work environment, using correct lifting techniques, exercising regularly, and maintaining an adequate body weight.

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