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The term radiculopathy refers to a malfunction of a spinal nerve root or roots. Radiculopathy usually has radiating pain, and may have sensory symptoms such as numbness and tingling. The tendon reflexes (i.e. knee jerks;ankle jerks) influenced by the spinal nerve root may be decreased or absent.   In more serious cases of radiculopathy, there may be weakness of the muscles powered by the involved nerve root.

The spinal nerve roots connect the nerves of the spinal cord with various areas of the body (i.e. arm;legs). Nerve root compromise is often caused by direct pressure upon the nerve from a herniated disc or bony growth (bone spur/osteophyte). Degernative changes of the spinal column often contribute to the development of nerve root compression and radiculopathy. Compression of a nerve root would cause numbness/tingling and/or weakness. Pulling/stretching of a nerve root may result in radiating pain as well as numbness/tingling and/or weakness. The nerve roots are especially vulnerable where they go through the holes in the sides of the spine (foramina) to go to the rest of the body.  Radiculopathy is characterized by radiating pain, numbness and/or weakness.

One of the most common symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy is sciatica (sciatic neuralgia). Sciatica is characterized by pain that radiates from your back into your buttocks, and down your legs to the feet. Lower extremity sensory symptoms are more common than motor symptoms. Muscle weakness is usually a sign that the nerve dysfunction is more severe. Muscle weakness is not always obvious. Early symptoms of muscle weakness are more often associated with early muscle fatque during exertion rather than obvious weakness.

Mild radiculopathy may result in skin (cutaneous) being more sensitive to touch along the area of skin that is supplied (innervated) by the involved nerve root. Persistent and/or progressive symptoms of radiculopathy, such as numbness and tingling, and especially muscle weakness are warning signs that the degree of neurological compromise is increasing and you should see a spine physician.

The workup often includes diagnostic imaging. Your doctor may order spine X-rays. Advanced neuroimaging such a magnetic resonance scan (MRI) may be useful for determining the location of nerve root compromise. MRI is particularly usefull because of its ability to depict detailed views of soft-tissues but it also shows bone.  Computerized Tomography (CT) may be used to evaluate the bony anatomy of the spine, to evaluate the discs and to help to assess how much space is available for the nerve roots within the central spinal canal and through the openings along the side of the spine (neuroforamen) where nerve roots exit.  Specialized electrical (electrodiagnostic) testing may be used to confirm spinal nerve root involvement, to role out other neurological conditions, to assess the presence of more than one neurological condition, to confirm the level of nerve root involvement, to assess the severity of involvement and as a baseline for the measurement of nerve recovery.

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