Understanding Spinal Neuropathy and Radiculopathy

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: April 29, 2019

Spinal Neuropathy

Because of the design of the spine and all the key structures housed in the area, it’s not uncommon for patients to tell us that they are dealing with symptoms that mimic more than one condition. One of the most common examples is the diagnosis of spinal radiculopathy and spinal neuropathy. We put the two conditions under the spotlight and explain how to care for either condition in today’s blog.

The Similarities and Differences Between The Two

Although spinal radiculopathy and neuropathy present similar symptoms, they are in fact two separate entities with different treatment methods. A person with either condition may experience the following symptoms in or around the spine:

  • Localized pain
  • Shooting pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Inhibited range of motion
  • Muscle weakness

The reason they have similar symptoms is because they share a very similar, albeit different, pathology. With spinal radiculopathy, you’re dealing with a spinal nerve problem at or near the root of the nerve along the spine, while with spinal neuropathy, you’re dealing with an issue further down on a peripheral nerve. Problems with neuropathy can be caused by nerve compression, nutritional deficiencies or as a result of other health conditions, like diabetes.

Both conditions cause nerve pain and related symptoms, but because the source of the issue is at different locations in the nerve, treatment will vary. That’s why it’s so important to get a comprehensive diagnosis from a spine specialist if you’re dealing with any or all of the symptoms listed above.

Diagnosis and Treatment

As we alluded to above, the first step is to get a diagnosis from a skilled professional. If you come to Dr. Sinicropi, he will review your patient history, ask about your symptoms and then conduct a physical exam. He’ll also ask you to perform a few simple maneuvers to see when pain develops and what actions lead to relief. From there, he’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, but he’ll want to pinpoint the exact source of the nerve issue with an imaging test. MRI, CT scan, myelogram or ultrasound can help to pinpoint the nerve issue, while an X-ray can help to rule out other potential issues.

Treatment will depend on the exact location of your issue and the true cause of discomfort. For example, if diabetes has damaged a spinal nerve, surgery isn’t going to be able to correct the problem, so treatment might involve physical therapy to relieve symptoms and patient education on the importance of managing their blood sugar levels. However, if you’re dealing with spinal nerve root compression, more hands-on physical therapy may be ordered, and surgery may be an eventuality should you fail to find relief from conservative care methods.

It will be important for both the doctor and the patient to manage their expectations when it comes to treatment. Neuropathy can’t always be fully addressed, while radiculopathy may also continue to cause trouble if compression has caused permanent damage. We want to help you achieve maximum medical improvement, but it’s important for the doctor to look at the case on an individual level and share with the patient the treatment expectations so things can stay on track.

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