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UC Davis Spine Center

UC Davis Spine Center

Pinched nerve, radiculopathy

What is a pinched nerve, or radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy is the irritation of the nerve caused by a narrowing in the spinal canals. This can be due to a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, a tumor, an infection or any other cause of nerve compression. These usually occur in the cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) areas of the spine, but occasionally occur in the thoracic (mid-back) spine.

Nerve irritation can be very painful. Cervical radiculopathy can lead to painful burning or tingling sensations in the arms. Lumbar radiculopathy can cause shooting pain in the legs sometimes called sciatica. Numbness and tingling or weakness of the arms or the legs can also result from nerve irritation in the lower back. In the most severe cases, lumbar radiculopathy can lead to incontinence, sexual dysfunction or severe paralysis.

How is radiculopathy diagnosed?

Radiculopathy is suspected when the patient experiences characteristic pain and displays typical signs or symptoms. Spine center physicians use physical examination, imaging (X-ray, MRI or CAT scan) and nerve studies to help confirm the condition and recommend treatment.

How is radiculopathy treated?

Treatment of radiculopathies must be individualized. It could include traction, strengthening and flexibility exercises, pain medications, epidural injections, or, in the worst cases, surgery. However, surgery is reserved for cases where multiple nerves are involved, the patient does not respond to noninvasive treatments or the patient is slowly losing the nerve function over time.