If the vertebrae (the bones of the spine), or the cushioning discs between them impinge on the root of a nerve in the spinal column, chronic injuries to the nerve may result. Radiculopathy is the general term for these injuries. The condition most commonly occurs in the lower, or lumbar region of the spine, termed lumbar radiculopathy. Radiculopathy may also occur in the neck, or cervical region of the spine, which is termed cervical radiculopathy. Common symptoms include radiating pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and loss of motor function. These symptoms may be felt all the way to the tips of the fingers or toes, even though the nerve injury is at the base of the nerve at the spine. Radiculopathy symptoms felt in the arms and hands are usually caused by cervical radiculopathy while those in the back of the leg and the foot usually result from lumbar radiculopathy.
Degenerative disc disease, a normal part of the aging process, can cause this condition, as can repetitive or stressful physical activities. Occupations that require repetitive motions or heavy lifting are common cause of lumbar radiculopathy. Being overweight or in poor physical health can also contribute to radiculopathy. Improper blood flow and progressive disease can also lead to the condition. A genetic predisposition and the presence of other spine disorders also increase one’s risk of developing spinal radiculopathy.
Physical therapy, medication, and relaxation are often prescribed successfully to treat lumbar radiculopathy. Spinal decompression surgery combined with spinal fusion back surgery has been a common treatment modality for patients who do not respond to conservative treatments. Today the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Spine) System, a new advance, can be performed as an alternative to spinal fusion. Unlike fusion, the TOPS System preserves the full natural range of motion of the individual vertebrae, which is lost when the bones are fused. The TOPS System has also been shown to provide superior outcomes in clinical studies around the world. Advances like these give individuals with back problems ever more, and more effective, treatment options.