If you have nerve pain and are confused by similar-sounding words such as radiculopathy and neuropathy being thrown around, this article will help you to understand these terms better.

Spine and its Nerves

The spine and its nerves are like a highway and the network of roads connecting to it: the spine forms the highway itself and the routes branching off it are the nerve roots. As the routes branch out, some might connect at some point to form another road and this road will be the peripheral nerve. A traffic jam can occur at the highway, the main routes or the small roads, similar to how issues can occur at the spine, the nerve roots or the peripheral nerves.

Nerve disorders signs and symptoms

Nerve disorders can generally be classified into 2 broad categories: those affecting the spinal cord itself and those affecting the nerve roots and peripheral nerves. Regardless of the location, signs and symptoms common to all three include:

  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Altered sensations

Types of Nerve Disorders

Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when there is damage to the peripheral nerves. This can be from overstretching, compression or lacerations to the nerve. In this case, effects are localised to just the areas which the nerve supplies. Likewise, a small accident in a small road will likely just result in blockage at the road itself and not spread further out.

Other than mechanical damage to the nerves, peripheral neuropathy can also be caused by systemic conditions such as diabetes and autoimmune disorders.

Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy refers to a compression of the nerve root. In radiculopathy, the spine is not affected and any problems are restricted to the areas supplied by the nerve root. So, with reference to the highway analogy, the route branching off the highway and any other small roads that come from it will be affected by the traffic jam. For example, if the nerve root supplies the inner part of the arm, only the inner part of the arm will be affected.

Radiculopathy is often caused by disc bulges or bone spurs at the spine.

Myelopathy

This refers to a compression of the spinal cord itself. Signs and symptoms are more widespread than those caused by disorders of the nerve roots and radiculopathy. Going back to the highway analogy, it is similar to how a traffic jam on the highway has a greater effect as compared to a small blockage on a side road. With myelopathy, you experience effects such as losing fine motor control, difficulty walking and loss of bowel and bladder control.

Myelopathy is most commonly caused by spinal stenosis, which refers to a narrowing of the spine and this is often associated with degeneration of the spine with age.

So how do I know what I have?

If you are experiencing symptoms that you suspect could be from a nerve disorder or are confused about the type of condition you have, it is best to seek professional advice as the treatment methods and pathways are different for each category of nerve disorder. At City Osteopathy and Physiotherapy, we have a team of experienced physiotherapists and osteopaths who can help you to identify what category you fall under and its corresponding treatment pathway. For nerve disorders, it is best to seek help as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage to the nerve and prevent the long-lasting side effects of nerve damage.