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For more information, please visit our Integrated Spine Care site or our Neuromedicine Pain Management Program site

What is radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy, also known as sciatica, is a pain that originates along the sciatic nerve, which extends from the back of the pelvis down the back of the thigh. The sciatic nerve is the primary nerve of the leg. It is also the largest nerve in the entire body.

What causes radiculopathy?

Usually, radiculopathy is caused by a herniated disk in the spine that presses on the sciatic nerve.

Other causes that may put pressure on the sciatic nerve may include the following:

  • tumor
  • abscess
  • blood clot
  • awkward sitting position
  • any nerve disorders

Sometimes, a cause for the radiculopathy cannot be identified.

What are the symptoms of radiculopathy?

The following are the most common symptoms of radiculopathy. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Symptoms may include:

  • lower back pain that radiates down the buttock and back of one thigh
  • pain that extends from the buttock down to the foot
  • numbness (in severe cases)
  • weakness (in severe cases)

The symptoms of radiculopathy may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult a physician for a diagnosis.

How is radiculopathy diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for sciatica may include the following:

  • x-ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

Treatment for radiculopathy:

Specific treatment for radiculopathy will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference
  • radiculopathy usually heals on its own with rest and time.

To help relieve the pain, treatment may include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • heat or cold applications to the sore muscles
  • keep your body in motion (to minimize inflammation)
  • surgery (to repair the herniated disk; if the condition persists)