Tag Archives: spinal pain

Radiculopathy

In previous posts, we’ve discussed chronic pain, including how chronic conditions can affect dentists.  Dentists and surgeons have strenuous jobs that require them to hold unnatural and static positions for extended periods of time, putting stress on their musculoskeletal systems.  Consequently, it is not uncommon for dentists and surgeons to experience spinal issues, including radiculopathy.  In this post we will examine the causes, diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment of radiculopathy.

Overview

Radiculopathy is a condition caused by a compressed nerve in the spinal column. This pinched nerve can occur at any spot in the spine, but is typically found in the cervical or lumbar portions of the back and, less frequently, in the thoracic spine.  Symptoms vary based on where the nerve roots are compressed; however, the roots typically become inflamed and cause numbness, weakness, and pain. Those suffering from radiculopathy can find it difficult or impossible to function with the same level of dexterity they used to have.

Symptoms

Generalized symptoms of radiculopathy include:

  • Sharp or shooting pains in the back, arms, legs, or shoulders that may worsen during certain activities
  • Weakness or loss of reflexes in the arms or legs
  • Numbness of the skin or “pins and needles” sensations in the arms or legs
  • Some individuals develop a hypersensitivity to light touch at the affected areas

The location of and specific symptoms will vary based on where the compressed nerve occurs:

  • Cervical Radiculopathy: Pressure on a nerve root in the neck. Symptoms include weakness, burning or tingling sensations, or loss of feeling in the shoulder, arm, hand, or fingers.
  • Lumbar Radiculopathy: Pressure on a nerve root in the lower back. Symptoms include pain, weakness, or numbness that starts in the lower back and radiates through the buttocks down the back of the leg.
  • Thoracic Radiculopathy: A pinched nerve in the upper/mid back. Symptoms include pain in the chest or torso, which can be mistaken for shingles.

Causes

Radiculopathy is caused by the irritation or compression of the nerves where they exit the spine.  This compression can occur in several ways:

  • Disc herniation, osteophytes (bone spurs), osteoarthritis, or the thickening of the surrounding ligaments
  • Scoliosis
  • Inflammation due to trauma or degeneration
  • Conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and obesity
  • Poor posture and/or repetitive movements
  • Aging
  • Genetic pre-disposition

Diagnosis

In order to diagnose radiculopathy, a physician will perform a medical history review and physical examination. The examination will include an evaluation of muscle strength, sensation, and reflexes to detect any abnormalities.  Additional imaging may be required, including:

  • X-rays: to identify trauma, osteoarthritis, or early signs of a tumor or infection
  • MRI or CT scan: to look at the soft tissues around the spine (nerves, discs, ligaments, etc.)
  • Electromyogram (EMG) and nerve conduction studies: to look at electrical activity along the nerve to identify any damage

Treatments:

The course of treatment for radiculopathy will usually start out conservative, but more aggressive treatment may be needed when pain persists.

  • Medications
  • Weight loss (if necessary) to reduce pressure on problem areas
  • Physical therapy
  • Avoiding activity that causes strain on the neck or back
  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Epidural steroid injection
  • Surgery to remove the compression on the spine

These posts are for informative purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with and diagnosis by a medical professional. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described below and have yet to consult with a doctor, do not use this resource to self-diagnose. Please contact your doctor immediately and schedule an appointment to be evaluated for your symptoms.

References:

MedicineNet, https://www.medicinenet.com/radiculopathy/article.htm#what_is_radiculopathy
John Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/nervous_system_disorders/acute_radiculopathies_134,11
WebMD, https://answers.webmd.com/answers
Heathline, https://www.healthline.com/health/radiculopathy#causes
Columbia Spine, http://columbiaspine.org/condition/radiculopathy/
Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318465.php

 

Spine-Related Musculoskeletal Conditions – Part 3 – Stenosis

In this series, we have been looking at spine-related musculoskeletal conditions that many dentists and surgeons suffer from.  In this post, we will be looking at spinal and foraminal stenosis.

Cervical Spinal Stenosis:

Definition: The narrowing of the spinal canal in the cervical vertebrae, often due to inflammation of the surrounding cartilage and tissue.

Overview: The spinal canal is formed by the hollow spaces in the middle of the vertebrae, which form a protective tunnel for the spinal cord to pass through the spinal column. Cervical spinal stenosis is a progressive and potentially dangerous condition that occurs when inflammation narrows the cervical spinal canal. The narrowing of this already tight space can result in direct pressure on the spinal cord, leading to a number of neurological complications.  Cervical spinal stenosis can be crippling if the spinal cord becomes damaged.

Symptoms: Symptoms usually develop gradually over time and can include numbness, weakness, tingling in neck, shoulders, arms, hands, or legs, as well as intermittent, sharp pain in the arms and legs, especially when bending forward.  Deterioration of fine motor skills and issues with gait and balance can also occur.  In more severe cases, bladder and bowel issues may develop.

Causes: Though in rare cases cervical spinal stenosis is a congenital condition, it often results from inflammation due to other spinal conditions, such as spinal osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, and disc bulging.

Diagnosis: A combination of X-ray, MRI, and computed tomography (CT) scans may be used to diagnose spinal stenosis.  Blood tests may be used to eliminate other diseases such as multiple sclerosis and vitamin B12 deficiency.

Treatment: Conservative, non-invasive treatments may include exercise, physical therapy, and activity modification.  Medications may include anti-inflammatory drugs, narcotic pain medication, muscle relaxers, and epidural steroid injections.  In more severe cases, several surgical options exist, dependent upon the particular characteristics of the patient’s condition:

  1. Anterior cervical discectomy/corpectomy with fusion (ADCF): The spine is accessed through the front of the patient’s neck, the disc is removed from between the two vertebrae, and the vertebrae are then fused together to stabilize the spine.
  2. Laminectomy: This is a “decompression” surgical procedure performed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. In this surgery, the lamina (the rear portion of the vertebra covering the spinal canal) is removed from the affected vertebra to enlarge the spinal canal and decrease pressure on the spinal cord.
  3. Interspinous Process Spacers: In this procedure, small metal spacers are surgically placed between the vertebrae to restore the spacing typically created by a healthy disc. This procedure is typically reserved for individuals with foraminal stenosis, however, and has only had limited effectiveness with patients suffering from spinal stenosis.

Foraminal Stenosis

Definition: Compression of the nerve roots connected to the spinal cord, caused by the narrowing of the passageway through which the nerves exit the spinal column.

Overview: The nerve roots branching off the spinal cord to other parts of the body exit the spinal column through small openings on the sides of the vertebrae called a foramen. This space can become clogged or narrowed due to a number of spine-related conditions. The narrowing or partial obstruction of the foraminal canal caused by one of these conditions can put pressure on the nerve roots emerging from the spinal column, and may lead to an array of neurological symptoms that get progressively worse over time.

Symptoms: Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the feet or hands.  Local pain in the extremities.  “Pins and needles” or burning sensation. Intermittent neck or back pain.

Causes: Bulging or herniated discs may obstruct the foraminal canal, putting pressure on the nerve roots.  It can also be caused by spinal osteoarthritis, osteophytes, and spondylolisthesis.  Dentists are susceptible to foraminal stenosis, as they often hold their necks in extended positions.

Diagnosis: A CT scan and a Myelogram are used to diagnose foraminal stenosis. A Myelogram is an X-ray in which an opaque dye (which shows up on the X-ray) is injected into the sac around the nerve roots. The dye moves through the foramina, allowing the doctor to see the degree to which the foramen is narrowed or obstructed.

Treatments: Conservative treatments may include physical therapy, stretching and strength training, and oral pain-relieving medication. Corticosteroid injections are an option for more severe cases to reduce inflammation and pain.  In extreme cases, a surgical procedure known as a foraminotomy may be used to remove the bone spur or disc material that is putting pressure on the nerve root as it exits the spinal column through the foramen.

Our next post in this series will discuss spondylolisthesis.

These posts are for informative purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with and diagnosis by a medical professional.  If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described below and have yet to consult with a doctor, do not use this resource to self-diagnose.  Please contact your doctor immediately and schedule an appointment to be evaluated for your symptoms.

References:

1. Spine-health, https://www.spine-health.com/.
2. Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/.
3. The Neurological Institute of New York,
http://columbianeurology.org/about-us/neurological-institute-new-york.
4. John Hopkins Medicine, http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/.
5. WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/.

Spine-Related Musculoskeletal Conditions – Part 2 – Spinal Osteoarthritis

In the first part of this series, we discussed the fact that dentists and surgeons often suffer from musculoskeletal conditions.  In the remaining posts in this series, we will be looking at particular musculoskeletal conditions, starting with spinal osteoarthritis.

Spinal Osteoarthritis

Definition: Spinal osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease. It is a breakdown of the cartilage in the facet joints, which link together the spine’s vertebrae.

Overview: At the top and bottom of each vertebra is a small pair of joints called facets. Facets connect the vertebrae in order to restrict movement in certain directions and to allow the spine to move as one fluid unit.  The surfaces of the facets, like any other joint in the human body, are covered by a lubricating cartilage which allows them to operate smoothly and with little friction.

When the cartilage protecting the facets degrades or wears down, the bony surfaces of the facets rub against each other.  This can cause inflammation, severe pain, and the formation of osteophytes (bone spurs) on or around the joint surfaces.  It may also cause numbness and/or weakness in the legs and arms as a result of contact between the vertebrae and the nerves leaving the spinal cord.

Symptoms: Neck pain and stiffness. Severe pain may radiate down into shoulders and up the neck.  Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the fingers, hands, and/or arms are also often present.  Usually back discomfort is relieved when a person is lying down.  Studies have also linked anxiety and depression to osteoarthritis.[1]

Causes: Spinal osteoarthritis frequently occurs in conjunction with degenerative disc disease.  As the discs between the vertebrae in the spinal column degrade and decrease in volume, the increased pressure and contact between the facet joints can cause an accelerated degradation of the joint cartilage.

Repetitive strain or stress on the spine, often due to poor posture, to is a common cause of spinal osteoarthritis.  People with jobs requiring repetitive movements and strained positions are considered to be at greater risk for conditions like spinal osteoarthritis; however, injury or trauma to a joint or a genetic defect involving cartilage are also causes.  Dentists are at a higher risk than many other professions to develop this condition due to the awkward, static postures they must maintain.

Diagnosis: X-rays may be used to identify loss of cartilage, bone spurs, and bone damage. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to analyze the intervertebral discs and the nerves exiting the spinal column.

Treatment: Conservative, non-invasive treatment plans may include some combination of heat/cold therapy, medication, physical therapy, strength training, and stretching. In more severe cases, a surgical treatment such as spinal fusion is utilized.

Our next post in this series will examine spinal stenosis, another common cause of neck and back pain.

These posts are for informative purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with and diagnosis by a medical professional.  If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described below and have yet to consult with a doctor, do not use this resource to self-diagnose.  Please contact your doctor immediately and schedule an appointment to be evaluated for your symptoms.

[1] Sharma, A., et. al, Anxiety and depression in patients with osteoarthritis: impact and management challenges, Open Access Rheumatology: Research and Reviews 2016:8 (2016).

References:

1. Spine-health, https://www.spine-health.com/.
2. Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/.
3. The Neurological Institute of New York,
http://columbianeurology.org/about-us/neurological-institute-new-york.
4. John Hopkins Medicine, http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/.
5. WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/.