Have you ever been diagnosed with a ‘pinched nerve’? This diagnosis is often accompanied by sharp, shooting pains into the arms or legs, usually without any injury to the body part involved. A common example of this is ‘sciatica’ where affected individuals will often complain of a sharp shooting pain down the back of their leg, often into the foot. In chiropractic, we refer to this travelling pain as ‘radicular’ pain.
Radicular pain, by definition, is pain that travels away from the source of the problem along the affected spinal nerve root. This is why pain is often felt outside of the region of injury in a seemingly random area. A ‘spinal nerve root’ refers to the part of the nervous system where different nerves start to deviate from the spinal cord and supply different parts of the body. These nerves can play a part in motor function (movement), sensory input, or (when the nerve root is aggravated) it can send pain signals along that nerve to whichever part of the body it supplies. As an example, an issue with the spinal nerve root in the neck may present with radicular pain into the arm, while a similar issue in the lumbar spine may present with radicular pain in the leg.
When a nerve becomes ‘aggravated’ it means that there is some kind of irritating stimulus that is impairing the function of that nerve. Different stimuli may include chemical irritation, such as inflammation, or mechanical irritation, including issues such as spinal cord compression, vertebral degeneration, or a herniated disc. As well as pain radiating from the spinal nerve root, one may also experience neurological symptoms which may present as delayed reflexes, numbness, and/or weakness in the limbs. These neurological issues are referred to as ‘radiculopathies’.
If you are experiencing radicular pain, or potentially a radiculopathy, your chiropractor will be able to identify this by conducting a thorough history, physical exam, and possibly radiographic imaging. By determining what is causing the issue, your chiropractor can formulate a care plan to help you based on your specific problem. Studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments can help to relieve symptoms of nerve root irritation; including both pain and neurological symptoms.
Patel, E. A., & Perloff, M. D. (2018). Radicular Pain Syndromes: Cervical, Lumbar, and Spinal Stenosis. Seminars in neurology, 38(6), 634–639. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0038-1673680
Christensen, K., & Buswell, K. (2008). Chiropractic outcomes managing radiculopathy in a hospital setting: a retrospective review of 162 patients. Journal Of Chiropractic Medicine, 7(3), 115-125. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2008.05.001
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