Degeneration of the spine can result in a variety of problem-causing conditions. Usually, they either come from mechanical problems in the neck or from nerves being irritated or pinched. A Cervical Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve) results when a nerve in the neck is irritated at the point where it leaves the spinal canal and is most commonly due to a bone spur or disc herniation. Lumbar radiculopathy develops in the same way, and involves a nerve root in the low back. Usually, it happens when a herniated disc or a bone spur pinches a nerve root.
Symptoms: Weakness, tingling sensations in the neck and arm (cervical) or back and leg (lumbar), numbness, and loss of reflexes may all occur. These symptoms may worsen when the neck or back is in different positions such as flexion and extension. In lumbar radiculopathy, it may increase along with abdominal pressure from sneezing, laughing, coughing, or going to the bathroom. The distribution of sensory symptoms may follow a discrete pattern specific for each nerve root involved. We call this sensory distribution on the skin a dermatome, and it helps diagnose where the injury is.
Diagnosis: X-ray, MRI, or CT may all be used. Testing such as EMG/NCS may also be performed to examine the "electrical system" of the body and determine the severity of nerve compression.
"Dermatome Map" showing skin innervations of the nerver roots
For more information about spine related conditions and treatments, visit the UCLA Spine Center at at spinecenter.ucla.edu.