Radiculopathy – Definition, Causes, Treatment Options

Do you feel a tingling sensation in your arms or legs? Do they feel numb or weak? Perhaps they ache for no apparent reason? If so, you may be suffering from a medical condition called radiculopathy. In this article, created for you with help of Dr. Matthew Hepler – an orthopedic Spine Surgeon in Delray Beach – we will explain what it is, what the causes of it are, and what some of the popular treatment options are.

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Radiculopathy – What is it?

By definition, radiculopathy is a condition that occurs when a compressed nerve in the spine causes pain, tingling, numbness or weakness along the course of the nerve (typically in the arms and/or legs). Compression (or irritation) of the nerve in the spine is what causes the unpleasant symptoms listed above. Some patients may also experience neck or low back pain, or even hypersensitivity to touch in the affected areas. Radiculopathy that affects the lumbar part of the spine and causes pain that radiates to the lower parts of the body is called sciatica.

Radiculopathy can be diagnosed using diagnostic techniques, such as examining the patient’s medical history, as well as a physical examination that involves checking the patient’s muscle strength, sensation, and reflexes to see if there are any abnormalities. During the interview, the doctor can ask the following questions:

  • How would you describe the sensation? How intense is the pain?
  • Where is the pain located? Does it radiate to other parts of the body?
  • How long have you been experiencing the symptoms? Have you noticed any change in intensity over time?
  • In what situation does the pain occur? Is there some activity that makes it worse/better?

X-ray or MRI may also be required to rule out other conditions (e.g. osteoarthritis, a tumor, or infection). The MRI will be able to provide a closer look at the soft tissues around the spine including the nerves, discs and ligaments, allowing the physician to confirm the presence of nerve compression. In some cases, the doctor might even recommend an EMG; this will allow him to check the nerves for any damage.  

What are the causes and risk factors for developing Radiculopathy?

Any activity that puts excess burden on the spine increases the risk of developing radiculopathy. Professional athletes who play contact sports, such as football or basketball, are among people who might be more prone to this particular condition, especially if they develop a disc tear or herniation. Degenerative changes which develop over the years and commonly result in spinal stenosis are one of the most common causes of nerve compression and radiculopathy. Taking good care of your spine and developing a regular exercise regimen including core exercises and aerobic conditioning are the best meanas to prevent these arthritic changes including radiculopathy.  Here are just a few simple things you can do to ensure your back stays healthy.

Radiculopathy can be caused by anything that causes the compression or irritation of the nerves in the spine, e.g., a herniated disc, a bone spur or a thickened ligament. Other structural changes which may cause radicular pain include spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, and rarely small masses or tumor. Factors such as trauma, inflammation, infection, and degeneration can all contribute to radiculopathy.

Back Surgery in Delray Beach – Radiculopathy: Treatment options

The most popular treatment for radiculopathy is a conservative one. It includes anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy. The patient is also advised to refrain from activities that may stress the spine and aggravate the radicular pain. In most cases, the symptoms disappear with time, typically from 3 weeks to 6 months, depending on the patient.

If these initial efforts are not sufficient to relief radicular pain your doctor may recommend epidural steroid injections. The injections rapidly decrease the inflammation and help the spine recover and are effective in 70-80% of properly selected patients when performed appropriately. For those patients who do not improve or develop worsening pain, surgical treatment may be required to definitively resolve the radicular complaints. This may include minimally invasive outpatient procedures including microdiscectomy, laminectomy, and lss commonly a fusion  procedure. Patients typically go home the same day, return to work in 5-10 days and return to full activities within 4-8 weeks. An experienced and skilled spine surgeon can help determine what is the best treatment for your particular problem. 1.

Orthopedic Spine Surgeon in Delray Beach – About Dr. Hepler


Radiculopathy is one of many conditions treated in our facilities. If you are struggling with back and leg pain or neck and arm pain, we invite you to schedule an appointment with our orthopedic spine surgeon in Palm Beach County. Dr. Hepler is a leading orthopedic spine surgeon in Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale with fellowship training in both adult and pediatric spine surgery. He has a subspecialty interest in complex spine reconstruction, including scoliosis, kyphosis, and spondylolisthesis, but he also performs minimally invasive outpatient procedures for disc herniations, radiculopathy, discogenic disc disease, lumbar and cervical stenosis, and traumatic and osteoporotic fractures. He is also an expert in back surgery and spinal stenosis treatment in Palm Beach County.