Radiculitis is essentially radicular pain that radiates along the path of a specific nerve as the response of pressure on the nerve root. Radiculitis can occur in any area of the spine and lead to moderate to severe pain. Radicular pain is often accompanied by sensations of tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness.
In its early stages, radiculitis can be mild, but when left untreated, it can escalate into a more severe condition. Also, since radiculitis can occur at any location of the spine, symptoms may vary and make it difficult to pin point.
What Is Radiculitis?
Radiculitis or radicular pain is transferred pain that is “radiated” along the path of a nerve due to pressure on the nerve root at its connection to the spinal column. Because the spinal nerves branch out to other areas of the body, the symptoms of radiculitis can be felt in other places beside the location of the affected disc and nerve root. The disease is often caused by direct pressure on nerve roots that shows up in areas of the skin that are controlled by the specific sensory fibers of the nerve roots.
Types of Radiculitis
Radiculitis can be categorized by the location in which the nerves are being affected. It can be categorized as cervical radiculitis, thoracic radiculitis, and lumbar radiculitis.
Cervical radiculitis is characterized by the compression of nerve roots in the upper part of the spine. The “cervical” spine consists of the first seven vertebrae, starting from the bottom of the skull. Depending on which disc is affected, you may feel pain in the arms, chest, neck, or shoulders. Other symptoms can include numb fingers and weak muscles in the arms and chest.
Thoracic radiculitis is characterized by the compression of nerve roots in the thoracic spine. Radiculitis that happens in the thoracic spine will likely cause pain in the chest area. The area that is inflamed is very painful and can even cause a numb or tingling sensation. Many times, symptoms can include a tight feeling in the chest.
Lumbar radiculitis is characterized by the compression of nerve roots in the lower part of the spine (lumbar spine). A common form of radiculitis is sciatica, or radicular pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve from the lower spine to the lower back, gluteal muscles, back of the upper thigh, calf, and foot. This is often caused by nerve root compression from a lumbar disc herniation or bone spurs in the lumbar region of the spine.
Causes of Radiculitis
In many cases, radiculitis is the result of some spinal abnormalities, such as a spinal disc pressed against the nerves, a herniated disc, or a bulging disc. Factors such as age, injuries, genetics, poor posture, obesity, smoking, and other can increase the risk of spinal abnormalities, which can result in radiculitis.
Also, many conditions are the primary cause of radiculitis, including:
- Spinal stenosis
- Bone spurs
- Facet syndrome
- Foraminal stenosis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated discs
- Bulging discs
Symptoms of Radiculitis
Radicular pain is a term used to describe pain from nerve root compression, per example sciatic pain is caused by a nerve root being compressed in the lower back. Radiculitis symptoms vary depending on which nerve root is affected. But in general, common radiculitis symptoms include radiating pain through the nerves, numbness, and difficulty with positioning.
Cervical Radiculitis Symptoms
Cervical radiculitis occurs when there’s some compression of the nerve roots located in the upper part of the spine, leading to symptoms such as:
- Neck pain
- Pain that radiates to arms and hands
- Numbness in the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers
- Muscular weakness
- Pain that radiates to the shoulders or chest
Thoracic Radiculitis Symptoms
Thoracic radiculitis symptoms are experienced when a nerve in the mid-back is affected, leading to symptoms such as:
- Chest pain
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Tight feeling in the chest
- Pain that radiates to the abdomen
Lumbar Radiculitis Symptoms
Lumbar radiculitis is very common. Radicular pain is most often experienced as sciatica due to the nerve roots being compressed in the lowe back. Lumbar radiculitis symptoms are often experienced in the lower back, the pelvic area, and the lower limbs. Lumbar radiculitis symptoms include:
- Lower back pain
- Pain that radiates to the legs and feet
- Numbness in the legs
- Muscular weakness
- Burning pain in the hips
- Difficulty finding comfortable sitting or standing positions
To diagnose radiculitis, a doctor must perform a medical and physical examination to assess the symptoms and rule out any other condition. Most likely, a doctor will request an MRI, as well as additional imaging testing to confirm the diagnosis before discussing radiculitis treatment options.
Exams & Tests
After the initial diagnosis, an imaging test will help confirm the diagnosis, as well as locate the nerves being affected. To do this, an x-ray, MRI or CT scan can help rule out other conditions while providing a clear view of the spinal canal. If there are any indications of nerve damage, an electromyogram (EMG) may be requested to test nerve function.
After diagnosis, a radiculitis treatment plan will help patients find pain relief and prevent any nerve damage. Therapy for radiculitis will vary depending on the symptoms being experienced and the severity of the symptoms.
To start, non-surgical treatment for radiculitis can help provide pain relief. But, if there’s another spinal condition causing the nerve compression, other treatment options must be explored. In general, conservative treatment for radiculitis includes a combination of physical therapy, medications, and medical procedures. In most cases, non-surgical treatment comprises:
- Medications: Doctors will recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and nerve pain meditation.
- Therapy: Massages, cryotherapy, physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, and hot and cold therapy.
- Medical procedures: Epidural steroid injections and nerve block injections.
When radiculitis is causing severe pain, and it’s not responding to conservative treatment, surgical intervention may be necessary to provide pain relief and prevent further damage. The Bonati Spine Institute offers an array of procedures to treat radiculitis. These procedures may include:
- Discectomy: Used when a herniated disc or bulging disc is the cause of radiculitis.
- Foraminectomy/Foraminotomy: Used when a pinched nerve, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, or thick ligaments are causing radiculitis.
- Laser Debridement and Facet Thermal Ablation: Used when there’s facet disease and/or dead tissue in the area.
Prevention & Self-Care
Depending on the underlying cause of radiculitis, specific prevention and self-care practices can help reduce the risk of further injury. However, radiculitis is often the result of degeneration and wear and tear throughout the years, which means it’s not completely preventable. But, those at risk can include these practices into their routines to maintain a healthy spine:
- Avoiding twisting movements that place a strain on the spine
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Maintaining proper posture
- Avoiding lifting or pushing heavy objects
- Following proper rest after injury