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Radiculopathy is a painful condition that results when a nerve becomes "pinched" (most commonly in the cervical or lumbar spine).

Radiculopathy is a condition involving pinched nerves in the spine that can cause pain, numbness, weakness or tingling. Radiculopathy can occur in all areas of the spine (the upper or cervical spine, the thoracic or middle spine, or the lumbar or lower spine). The most common locations for the condition to occur are the cervical and lumbar spine. Most people affected by radiculopathy are between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. The condition can occur spontaneously or as the result of a trauma.

What Causes Radiculopathy?
Radiculopathy occurs as a result of another condition, which puts the pressure on the nerve.

Some of the most common causes of radiculopathy are:

  • Herniated disc. A herniated or ruptured disc is the most common cause of radiculopathy. Herniated discs occur when the outer rim of the spine disc weakens, causing the soft annulus to push outward. This herniation can put pressure on the nerve roots of the spine, causing extreme pain and discomfort. Not all herniated discs cause radiculopathy, and many adults have herniated discs that are symptom free.
  • Cauda Equina Syndrome is a rare but serious condition in which the nerve roots in the lower back are compressed and compromise pelvic organ and lower extremity function. The condition is almost always a result of a severe herniated disc or spinal rupture.
  • Sciatica
  • Bone spurs
  • Spinal Tumors
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Scoliosis: is a sideways curvature of the spine that can be present at birth or develop over time. The angle and severity of the curve varies from person to person, and can cause mild to severe back pain and uneven posture.
  • Diabetes: A less common cause of the condition, patients with diabetes can develop radiculitis, which occurs when blood flow to the nerves is inadequate


Because radiculopathy is a complicated condition with various causes, it is important to be treated by specialists such as the spine team at the Weill Cornell Medicine Brain and Spine Center — so that proper diagnosis can be made and the most effective course of treatment may be prescribed. (See Symptoms of Radiculopathy.)

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Reviewed by Dr. Roger Härtl
Last reviewed/last updated: November 2017
Illustration by Thom Graves, CMI