Radiculopathy - Diagnosis

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How is radiculopathy diagnosed?

The diagnosis of radiculopathy begins with a medical history and physical examination by the physician. During the medical history, the doctor will ask questions about the type and location of symptoms, how long they have been present, what makes them better and worse, and what other medical problems present. By knowing the exact location of the patient's symptoms, the doctor can help localize the nerve that is responsible. The physical examination will focus on the extremity involved. The doctor will check the patient's muscle strength, sensation, and reflexes to see if there are any abnormalities.

The patient may then be asked to obtain imaging studies to look for a source of the radiculopathy. Plain X-rays are often obtained first. These can often identify the presence of trauma or osteoarthritis and early signs of tumor or infection. An MRI scan may then be obtained. This study provides the best look at the soft tissues around the spine including the nerves, the disc and the ligaments. If the patient is unable to obtain an MRI, they may obtain a CT scan instead to explore possible compression of the nerves.

In some cases the doctor may order a nerve conduction study or electromyogram (EMG). These studies look at the electrical activity along the nerve and can show if there is damage to the nerve.

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Comment from: Pammiepi, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: November 07

My radiculopathy was diagnosed after a severe burning backache (full spine) which was so incredibly painful, it prohibited me from even sitting in a chair. I work from home and it was so bad I had to take a few sick days! Well, after 3 weeks it thankfully seemed to go away, only to be followed a few months later with a low aching, though sometimes stabbing lower back ache and significant leg numbness/tingling and weakness (left side). The doctors did an MRI (which revealed osteoarthritis) and also a nerve conduction study and EMG after my left leg went numb and seemed to give out sometimes, resulting in random falls. Also, maybe unrelated, I went to the emergency room one night and was diagnosed with Bell's palsy (left side). When the nerve conduction study came back and the EMG came back, they said the nerve conduction study was fine but the EMG revealed problems with my left side (leg). Mine is in the L4 and L5 region.

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