A pinched nerve, or radiculopathy, occurs when a nerve root or spinal nerve is compressed and causes pain or nerve damage in one of three parts of your spine: cervical, thoracic, or lumbar. The most common causes of radiculopathy are herniated discs or bone spurs. Herniated discs can press against nerve roots that run along the spine between each vertebra, causing pain, tingling, numbness, and sometimes weakness to the areas the nerve root supplies. Spinal bone spurs result from age-related changes. Over time, the discs become flat, and the vertebrae rub together, triggering bone growth or spurs. The spurs can press against the nerve roots.
The most common signs and symptoms of radiculopathy are pain and unusual nerve sensations in your back and body. Where you feel these symptoms depends on which nerve is affected.
The cervical spine is the top of your spine. It makes up your neck and supports your head. The nerves of the cervical spine send signals to and from the arms. Symptoms of radiculopathy in this section include pain, numbness, or weakness in the arm or hand caused by a pinched nerve in the neck. Common causes of cervical radiculopathy include herniated discs or bone spurs. Treatments can include:
- Physical therapy
- Epidural steroid injection
- Surgery, including anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, cervical disc arthroplasty, and posterior cervical foraminotomy
The thoracic spine is the middle and upper parts of your back. Thoracic radiculopathy is less common than other types of radiculopathy, and symptoms include pain in the chest or stomach.
The lumbar spine is part of your lower back and bears most of your weight. The nerves of the lumbar spine send signals to and from the legs. Nerve compression in the bottom part of the lumbar spine can affect your sciatic nerve. You may have sharp pain from your back to your buttocks and all the way down the back of your leg to your foot. A compressed nerve in the upper part of your lumbar spine can cause pain on the front of your legs and feet and numbness or weakness in the leg. Lumbar radiculopathy is the most common type of radiculopathy.