Could Your Chronic Pain Be Radiculopathy – a Pinched Nerve in Your Spine?
The tricky thing about our nervous system is that it can create pain in one area of our body, while the actual problem lies in another area.
That’s the case with Radiculopathy – the medical term for a nerve in or around the spine that’s somehow getting squeezed.
How does that happen?
The culprit could be a herniated disk. The ‘cushions’ between the bony vertebrae of our spine can flatten, bulge or become dislocated. This puts pressure on the nerves that run through the spine.
Or the nerve root could be pinched where it exits the spine. Or it can be impacted by bone spurs, which slowly grow when bones are under pressure.
Whatever the initial cause, the resulting inflammation or swelling around the nerve creates pain in the area that that particular nerve travels to.
A pinched nerve in the lower back can be felt as a radiating pain or as numbness in the legs. If it’s in the neck, near top of the spine, its effects can be felt in the arms or hands.
What causes Radiculopathy?
Pinched disk problems most often occur due to wear and tear in spinal structures over time. So advancing age is a factor. There’s not much we can do to prevent it, other than using good posture, especially when exercising or lifting heavy objects.
For players of contact sports, high-impact collisions (including using the head in a tackle) can stretch or compress nerves in the neck. These types of injuries are known as ‘stingers’ for the stinging pain they produce.
How is it diagnosed?
Typically, physicians start with checking muscle strength and reflexes. By determining the specific area of pain sensation, as well as specific movements that cause the pain, the location of the impacted nerve root can often be identified.
The use of an X-ray, MRI or CT scan can further help to pinpoint the source problem.
How is a pinched nerve traditionally treated?
Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the affected area. Short term bed rest can offer relief for flare-ups. Pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers can help to manage temporary pain.
For more serious chronic conditions, doctors inject steroids such as cortisone. However long-term treatment of this type can do damage to tissues and cartilage.
Surgery is a last resort, but that invasive ‘cure’ can bring its own complications.
What is Regenerative Medicine, and what can it offer?
This growing and very promising branch of medicine utilizes natural healing and growth factors that are produced in the body. Depending on the specific conditions, biological ‘products’ such as extra cellular vesicles, platelet-rich plasma (PRP), Wharton’s Jelly and amniotic material such as stem cells are injected into the spot where the nerve is pinched.
This reduces inflammation in disks and in the tissue surrounding the nerves and spine – which in turn reduces pain caused by the inflammation. Typically, this approach works better and lasts longer than cortisone.
Regenerative Medicine treatment also helps heal damaged nerve roots and affected tissue, as well as improve blood flow, which cortisone does not.
Since every situation is different, this type of treatment may not work the same for everyone. But most report less pain and easier movement within a couple of weeks. For many, it can also mean avoiding the impact and risks of surgery.