Because their symptoms can overlap, it’s common for radiculopathy and neuropathy to be confused for one another—even by professionals such as spine specialists and neurosurgeons. Although both deal with nerve damage, the difference comes down to the location of the problem. If there is damage at or near the nerve’s root along the spine, it is considered radiculopathy. Neuropathy is damage outside of the spinal cord in the peripheral nerves. We’ll discuss each condition at length to understand their differences.
Our spine houses 31 pairs of nerves and roots. When one of those nerves becomes pinched or inflamed, it is known as radiculopathy. There are three types of radiculopathy, depending on the location of the pinched nerve. The most common is lumbar radiculopathy, which affects the lower back. Cervical radiculopathy affects the neck. Thoracic radiculopathy, the least common type, affects the upper back.
The symptoms of radiculopathy may vary depending on where the pinched nerve is located. Pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling are the most common symptoms. Where you experience these symptoms may provide a clue to what type of radiculopathy you have. If you have pain or numbness in your arms and hands, that is a sign of cervical radiculopathy. Thoracic radiculopathy usually results in pain and numbness in the front of your body. The lower back, arms, and feet are most commonly affected by lumbar radiculopathy. These symptoms may be constant or may worsen with certain activities. You may experience only one or two of them. It is even possible to have long periods of experiencing no symptoms, only to have an occasional flare-up.
What Is the Difference Between Sciatica and Radiculopathy?
Sciatica is a type of radiculopathy, although the terms are often used interchangeably. To be specific, sciatica is another name for lumbar radiculopathy. The sciatic nerve—the largest in your entire body—extends from your pelvis down the back of your thigh. When this nerve becomes pinched or inflamed, it is known as sciatica.
Common symptoms of sciatica include:
- Lower back pain that extends down the back of one thigh
- Buttock pain that extends down to your foot
- Weakness or numbness (in severe cases)
Is Radiculopathy Nerve Damage?
Yes, radiculopathy is a type of nerve damage. Because the damage results from a nerve root being pinched or inflamed, it is not often permanent. Radiculopathy can be caused by arthritis, disc herniation, ossification of spine ligaments, bone spurs, or inflammation from trauma. These can occur in car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian accidents.
What your treatment plan looks like will depend on how severe your radiculopathy is and how much it affects your day-to-day life. In minor cases, the symptoms may improve with time and require little or no treatment. On the other hand, moderate to severe cases should be evaluated by a professional to determine the best course of treatment. Surgery may be the best option for lasting relief, but it is often reserved for the most severe cases or when non-surgical treatments have not been effective.
The most common non-surgical treatments include:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Steroid injections
Neuropathy is a sort of catch-all term that refers to several nervous system disorders. Like radiculopathy, it involves damage to the nerves. Unlike radiculopathy, it can involve the nerves outside of the spinal cord.
There are several types of neuropathy:
- Peripheral Neuropathy - Nerve damage that occurs outside of the brain and spinal cord. There are more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy. Still, the three main categories include motor neuropathy (damage to the nerves controlling your muscles and movement), sensory neuropathy (damage to the nerves controlling your senses), and autonomic nerve neuropathy (damage to the nerves controlling unconscious functions such as breathing and heartbeat).
- Cranial Neuropathy - Damage to 1 or more of 12 cranial nerves. Vision and hearing may be affected.
- Autonomic Neuropathy - Damage to nerves in the involuntary nervous system, which controls many organs. May affect circulation, digestion, bowel/bladder function, sexual response, and perspiration.
- Focal Neuropathy - Damage limited to a single nerve, group of nerves, or one area of your body.
- Diabetic Neuropathy - Nerve damage from diabetes, usually affecting your feet or legs.
There are several possible causes of neuropathy, including hereditary disorders, alcohol abuse, nutritional deficiencies, exposure to certain drugs, infections, and trauma (which can occur after a motor vehicle accident, fall, or another accident).
Because neuropathy is used to describe such a wide range of nerve disorders, the symptoms vary depending on the type you are experiencing. The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy overlap with radiculopathy and include pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling. These similarities are why the two are often confused.
These are some other signs of neuropathy:
- Changes in skin, hair, or nails
- Emotional disturbances
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Perspiration problems
- Loss of control over blood pressure
- Trouble eating or swallowing
What Is the Difference Between Neuropathy & Polyneuropathy?
Polyneuropathy is a term used to describe the extent of nerve damage. If multiple peripheral nerves are damaged, it is polyneuropathy. In cases where only one nerve is affected, it is mononeuropathy. If you are experiencing neuropathy, it is far more common to have damaged multiple peripheral nerves than just one.
Unlike radiculopathy, neuropathy is rarely treated with surgery. For this reason, it becomes crucial to make sure your nerve condition is diagnosed correctly. When it comes to treatment, physicians will often look at the cause. If a health condition or nutritional deficiency is responsible, it is most effective to treat and manage those first. Many suffering from neuropathy will find relief when they focus on the root of the problem.
Other forms of treatment may include:
- Over-the-counter or prescription pain medications
- Chiropractic care
- Physical therapy
Nerve Damage Caused by Trauma? We Can Help.
If your radiculopathy or neuropathy was the result of trauma caused by another person’s negligence, Arnold & Itkin is here to help you fight for full and fair compensation. As nationally-respected personal injury attorneys, we believe we must provide security, guidance, and hope in an uncertain time. No matter what.
Our firm will do whatever it takes to help you recover. Call (888) 493-1629 or fill out our contact form!