Radiculopathy is dysfunction of a nerve that originates in the spine. This dysfunction is usually caused by compression of the nerve, known as a “pinched nerve” in lay terms.
Radiculopathy is characterized by back pain that is off to one side with associated buttock thigh or leg pain if the source of the radiculopathy is in the low back. If the source of the radiculopathy is in the neck, it is characterized by shoulder blade or arm pain. A thoracic radiculopathy can occur, but it is much less common because the thoracic spine is less mobile and less prone to disc herniations that would compress a nerve.
Radiculopathy is usually diagnosed by correlating the above symptoms to findings that a doctor may observe on examination of the patient. In addition, there are tests including imaging of the spine that can demonstrate findings of a compressed nerve that correlate with the symptoms. Other testing may include an EMG/nerve conduction study that diagnoses abnormal electrical activity of the involved nerve.
Treatment of a radiculopathy is varied. Most radiculopathies are self-limited and require only observation and non-surgical treatments (for example antiinflammatory medication or physical therapy). In the presence of relentless pain, weakness or clumsiness, however, surgery may be necessary. Surgery would usually involve decompressing the pinched nerve.
Surgical outcomes for radiculopathy tend to be quite good, in the range of 80% to 90% efficacy.