Radiculopathy: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 6/15/2021

Radiculopathy is a medical term that refers to nerve irritation caused by damage to the intervertebral discs between the backbones of the spinal cord.

Cervical radiculopathy refers to radiculopathy in the neck (cervical spine), while lumbar radiculopathy refers to the condition occurring in the low back. Radiculopathy in the middle portion of the spine is less common.

Signs and symptoms of radiculopathy depend on the area in the spinal column that is affected and can include sharp pain in the back, arms, legs or shoulders that may worsen with certain activities, even something as simple as coughing or sneezing. Other associated symptoms can include

  • weakness or loss of reflexes in the arms or legs,
  • numbness of the skin, and
  • a "pins and needles" feeling (paresthesia) in the arms or legs.

Causes of radiculopathy

The intervertebral discs can be damaged through degeneration or trauma. When this occurs, the soft inner portion of the disc can rupture or herniate through the external ring of the disc and press on the spinal cord or the nerves connected to the spinal cord.

Other radiculopathy symptoms and signs

  • Numbness of the Skin
  • Pins and Needles Feeling (Paresthesia) in the Arms or Legs
  • Sharp Pain in the Back, Arms, Legs, or Shoulders That May Worsen with Certain Activities
  • Weakness or Loss of Reflexes in the Arms or Legs


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Jameson, J. Larry, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.