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What is Radicular Pain?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Radicular pain is pain associated with damage to one of the nerve roots, the connections between the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system. Injury to a nerve root is known as radiculopathy and is classified by where it is located. People who experience radicular pain may experience other symptoms as well. A neurologist is usually involved in diagnosis and treatment of radiculopathy.

The nerve roots consist of bundles of motor and sensory nerves that emerge from underneath the vertebrae. Each nerve root feeds a section of the peripheral nervous system, covering an area known as a dermatome. Radicular pain can cover an entire dermatome, or show up in just one section. Pinpointing the area where the pain is occurring is an important step in diagnosis and treatment, as a neurologist can figure out which nerve root is involved on the basis of the location of the pain.

Some reasons for radicular pain to develop include compression or inflammation of a nerve root, degenerative diseases involving the nervous system, and decreased bloodflow to the nerves, as seen in some patients with diabetes. In addition to pain, other symptoms can include tingling, numbness, and partial weakness. The patient may also have difficulty controlling muscle movements in the area where the pain is located.

Cervical radiculopathy originates in the nerve roots that emerge from the upper area of the spine, known as the cervical spine. It is also possible to experience thoracic or lumbar radiculopathies. Radicular pain that is caused by damage to the nerve roots in the lumbar spine is known as sciatica. People who experience sciatica often report that they have shooting pains that travel down the leg, and the pain is usually centered on one side of the body, corresponding to the involved nerve root.

When a patient seeks treatment for radicular pain, the first step is usually a full physical examination and medical imaging studies to look at the spine. Identifying the location, nature, and cause of the damage is an important step in treatment. If the radiculopathy can be treated, as for example with surgery to relieve compression, this will resolve the radicular pain. If the cause cannot be treated, options for the patient can include analgesic drugs to manage pain, electrical stimulation of the nerve to control pain signals, or a neurotomy to sever the nerve if the pain is unbearable and the patient appears to be a good candidate for this procedure.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Perdido — On Aug 21, 2011

I am familiar with radicular pain. It can be terrible! I had a pinched nerve in my back, and it was painful no matter what position I took. I tried standing, bending, lying down, and sitting, but nothing helped.

My doctor told me that muscle spasms often go along with a pinched nerve, and that was what I was having. After the pain would subside, I would feel tingling and burning in the same area.

In addition to prescribing me some pain pills to help me through the toughest part, my doctor told me to alternate between applying heat and ice to the region. He also instructed me on some stretches that might help, but I would have to be able to move around first before I could attempt them.

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 21, 2011

I have known that I am diabetic for two years now. I went to my doctor after I started having shooting pains in my feet.

The pain would come and go, but along with it, I would have periods of numbness and tingling. It was very hard to sleep at night, which is when these pains often were at their worst.

My doctor tested me and found that I had diabetes. He told me I was experiencing radicular pain because of it.

Luckily, there are a number of drugs on the market that can help. I am currently taking one that works for me.

By Oceana — On Aug 20, 2011

My sister has radicular pain caused by sciatica. It took awhile for her doctor to diagnose it, because at first, he thought maybe she had kidney problems, since the pain started in her lower back. Then, he said it might be caused by her job, which involves a lot of bending and lifting.

Once the pain began to radiate down her left leg, he knew that it was sciatica. He told her about some exercises that could help reduce her occurrences of pain. They helped a little, but she was in pain so often that she didn’t have much of a chance to do them. She eventually saw a chiropractor, and he provided her some relief.

It probably didn’t help that she had broken her tailbone as a child. She had been having problems with pain in that area off and on throughout her life, but the radicular pain was the greatest and lasted the longest.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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