Examining Radiculopathy and Neuropathy
What they are. How they are different. And their relation to auto accidents.
When someone has been injured in an auto or another type of accident, the amount of information they need to absorb all at once can be overwhelming. From the insurance companies and the paperwork to the medical appointments and diagnoses, it is a lot.
This article will attempt to clarify two commonly confused medical conditions: radiculopathy and neuropathy. After reading online blogs and hearing from clients, it has become clear that there is some confusion about what they are, how they differ, and the causes of each one.
These two medical terms are not synonymous, although they do share similarities. Radiculopathy is actually considered a type of neuropathy—since it is a general term for ‘nerve damage.’
What is Radiculopathy?
The term radiculopathy has a suffix that is not only telling about its meaning but can also be helpful in remembering the difference between the two terms. “Radic” the beginning of the term, comes from “radix” meaning “root.” This is because radiculopathy is the damage or disturbance of nerve function that results when one of the nerve roots near a vertebra is compressed. Long story short, It’s when the nerves in your spinal cord get pinched and cause a lot of problems.
This compressed nerve can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness along the course of the compressed nerve. This pain radiates out to other parts of the body, depending on where the damage or compressed nerve root is located. Radiculopathy can occur in any part of the spine, but it is most common in the lower back (lumbar radiculopathy) and in the neck (cervical radiculopathy). It is less commonly found in the middle portion of the spine (thoracic radiculopathy) .
Most patients with radiculopathy-related issues respond well to conservative treatments, like medications such as sterioid injections, physical therapy, or chiropractic management.
Causes of Radiculopathy
Radiculopathy is caused by compression or irritation of the nerve roots where they meet the spine. It is most commonly due to physical compression of the nerve by a herniated or bulging disc, a bone spur, or from thickening of surrounding ligaments. These conditions reduce the amount of space in the spinal canal and compress the exiting nerve.
Inflammation from trauma, like those suffered in a car accident or injury, can also lead to radiculopathy by directly irritating the nerves.
A herniated disc is by far the most common cause, however.
A herniated disc is a tear or rupture in the outer layer of the spinal disc causing a portion of the gel-like nucleus to leak into the spinal canal. A herniated disc may have begun as a bulging disc, but it created so much pressure on the outer wall that is caused it to rupture. This herniation occupies the spinal canal, either putting pressure on or pinching the spinal cord and other nerve roots. (See this article for detailed information on spinal disc herniation and bulging.)
Radiculopathy can also be caused by thickening of spinal ligaments also known as ossification. This thickening of spinal ligaments leads to narrowing of space around nerve roots and results in the nerves being pinched or compressed. some much less common causes of radiculopathy can be spinal infections as well as cancerous growths, spinal stenosis, and other forms of swelling or growth that can pinch the nerves of the spinal cord.
Symptoms of Radiculopathy
The symptoms of radiculopathy depend on where the compression is taking place: in the neck or the lower back. Each of these is separated into two categories known as, cervical radiculopathy and lumbar radiculopathy. (For more information on the anatomy of the spine, read this article.)
Cervical radiculopathy is the damage or disruption of nerve function that results when one of the nerve roots near the cervical (neck) vertebrae is compressed. Damage to pinched nerve roots in the cervical area can cause pain and the loss of sensation along the nerve’s pathway into the arm and hand, depending on where the damaged roots are located. This is because nerves leave your spine to travel to other areas of the body, for obvious reasons: movement, sensation, reflexes, etc. In areas higher on the spine, like the neck, the nerves run to the arms and hands. In lower regions, they may run to the legs or buttock .
Lumbar radicular pain radiates into the thigh, calf, and occasionally the foot directly along the course of a specific spinal nerve root. The most common symptom of radicular pain is sciatica, caused by compression of a spinal nerve in the lower back. (Read more about sciatica.) It often will be caused by compression of the lower spinal nerve roots. With this condition, the leg pain is typically much worse than the lower back pain. The specific areas of the leg and/or foot that are affected depends on which nerve in the lower back is compressed or damaged .
Radiculopathy from Car Accidents
When someone is injured in a car accident they may find (or not notice at first) that they have damaged their spine, either at the neck or the lower back, or both. Neck and back injuries are actually among the most common kinds of injuries sustained by car accident victims.
If you have been the victim of a car accident and have experienced the type of injury that results from spinal trauma, you may have severe pain or discomfort in either the spinal area or more commonly, in an area the pain has radiated out to, as mentioned above. The damage a car accident can cause to your spine can be severe and long-lasting. It may also take some time after the accident for the pain to begin, which is why it is necessary for a health care professional to examine you immediately after an accident.
What is Neuropathy?
The medical term neuropathy does not refer to a specific disease or syndrome. Instead, it is a generic term that describes various disorders or malfunctions of the nervous system. There are different categories of neuropathy, depending on location, function, and specific types of the affected nerves. This is because nerves anywhere in the body can be damaged as a result of an accident or injury.
Neuropathy and radiculopathy have some similarities in that they are both conditions that relate to nerve damage as well as some similar symptoms as a result of this. However, these two classifications of nerve illness have some significant differences. Radiculopathy is caused by the pinching of root nerves of the spinal column while neuropathy is damage or malfunction of peripheral nerves and encompasses a much wider array of issues caused by this nerve damage. The two also have differing levels of treatment where radiculopathy can be treated with surgery and neuropathy cannot due to the nature of the nerve damage not being based on physical nerve compression.
(There are also other non-trauma causes of neuropathy, including diabetes, diseases, old age complications, etc.)
Types of Neuropathy
Neuropathy is classified according to the types or location of nerves that are affected. Other types of neuropathy that are caused by specific diseases are named for the condition causing it .
Peripheral neuropathy: When the nerve problem is located outside of the areas of the brain and spinal cord. These nerves are considered part of the peripheral nervous system since they are considered secondary to the main two nerve areas, the brain, and spine. It makes sense then that peripheral neuropathy affects the nerves of the extremities: toes, feet, legs, fingers, hands, and arms. The term proximal neuropathy has been used to refer to nerve damage that specifically causes pain in the shoulders, thighs, hips, or buttocks.
Cranial neuropathy: Occurs when any of the twelve cranial nerves— the nerves that exit from the brain directly—are damaged. Two specific types of cranial neuropathy are optic neuropathy and auditory neuropathy. Optic neuropathy refers to damage to the optic nerve that is responsible for transmitting visual signals from the eye to the brain. Auditory neuropathy involves the nerve that is responsible for hearing, which carries signals from the inner ear to the brain.
Autonomic neuropathy: Autonomic neuropathy is damage to the nerves of the involuntary nervous system. These are the nerves that control things by themselves (autonomously): the heart, circulatory system, digestive system, gastrointestinal system, bladder function, sexual response, and perspiration. Nerves in other organs can also be affected.
Focal neuropathy: Focal neuropathy is neuropathy that is restricted to one nerve or group of nerves, or one part of the body. The damage and resulting pain are very much focused on one area.
Symptoms of Neuropathy
Symptoms depend on which nerve is damaged, and whether the damage affects one nerve, several nerves, or the whole body .
- Pain and Numbness –An early sign of nerve damage (neuropathy) is a tingling or burning sensation in the arms and/or legs. It may begin in your toes and feet, with the pain progressively getting more severe. You may also begin to lose some feeling in your legs and/or arms. This numbing sensation can begin to present its own set of problems as a lack of feeling may cause someone to pick up something that is too hot, cut themselves and not notice, etc. Numbness in the feet may also cause balance issues, since standing on feet that you cannot feel may prove difficult.
- Muscle Problems –Neuropathy may begin to make it difficult to control one’s muscles. It may also cause weakness. A muscle that becomes weak because of nerve damage may start to give out or no longer support your body weight. You might find it difficult to lift parts of your body or type on a keyboard. You may also notice that your muscles have begun to cramp, twitch, or decrease in size.
- Issues with Bodily Organs – People with nerve damage may have problems with what would otherwise be normal organ function. For example, problems digesting their food (bloating, heartburn, or vomiting), difficulty controlling their bowels or bladder, or trouble swallowing. Damage to the nerves around and to your heart may cause you to feel light-headed, faint, or dizzy.
- Other Symptoms – Men may find that they are having problems with erections while women may have trouble with vaginal dryness or lack of orgasm. Diabetics may find it hard to sense when their blood sugar gets too low. You may start to sweat too little, too much, or too often resulting in problems controlling your body temperature.
Neuropathy from Car Accidents and Other Trauma
Physical injuries are the most common cause of injury to a nerve. Injury or sudden trauma—automobile accidents, slip-and-falls, sports-related injuries, etc.—can cause nerves to be partially or completely severed, crushed, compressed, or stretched.
Broken or damaged bones can put pressure on surrounding nerves. A herniated or bulging disc from a spinal injury can also put pressure on surrounding nerves or the spinal cord itself. These are considered compressed nerves. Entrapment neuropathy (compression) is caused by physical compression or irritation of major nerve trunks and peripheral nerves, causing nerve pain to radiate or other symptoms.
Forceful or awkward movements can cause damage as well, resulting in irritation that may cause ligaments, tendons, and/or muscles to become inflamed and swollen. Pressure on a nerve can result in the inability to transmit signals either to or from the brain. Sometimes they may be misinterpreted, resulting in the sensation of pain .
Consider an Experienced Florida Personal Injury Attorney
If you are experiencing any of these issues after an accident, you may have nerve damage. You should immediately seek health care to be properly diagnosed and treated. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can work with you and your healthcare professional to determine your current and future medical needs and how they will factor into getting compensation for your damages. You should not have to pay the monetary and psychological costs of someone else’s negligence alone.
The effects of nerve damage can take years to heal, create substantial medical bills, and affect your ability to work and live freely. Even with medical treatment and rehabilitation, you may never fully recover to your former abilities.
You have the ability to be compensated for this unfortunate change in your life, especially if you have the support of an experienced auto accident lawyer to maximize the payment you receive. We’ve helped thousands of victims get compensation for a situation that they had no control over and now have to live with for the rest of their lives. It can be a heavy burden to carry, but we can help to take some of the load off. Visit our website to meet our attorneys, see videos about personal injury topics, and to read about our services. Call our offices today to set up a free consultation and case evaluation. Our number is (727) 451-6900.