Understanding Myelopathy vs. Radiculopathy: Causes and Symptoms

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Myelopathy vs. Radiculopathy
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Myelopathy and radiculopathy are two spinal conditions that share similar symptoms, including pain and numbness in your arms and legs.

In this article, we will discuss myelopathy vs. radiculopathy, from causes and symptoms to diagnosis and treatment, as well as what the differences between the two spinal conditions actually are.

What is a myelopathy? What is a radiculopathy? Hopefully, when we are done, you will have a better understanding of the unique spinal conditions and maybe even a better understanding about the spine itself.

Myelopathy vs. Radiculopathy

As we mentioned previously, myelopathy and radiculopathy are closely related in terms of their symptoms and how they affect the body. The best way to start understanding the differences between the two conditions is by first looking at each one individually.

What is a myelopathy? Myelopathy and its symptoms are the results of compression in your spine, usually due to a herniated disc. Because of this, myelopathy could potentially affect your entire spinal cord as opposed to one localized area. That is not to say that the effects of radiculopathy are limited to one region, however.

So, what is a radiculopathy? Radiculopathy is, generally speaking, an issue with one nerve or more. Essentially, the symptoms of radiculopathy come from a nerve, or cluster of nerves, connected to the spine. Something is interfering with that nerve, which is what causes the pain and other symptoms you may be experiencing. This is often referred to as a pinched nerve or compressed nerve despite the fact that there are a few other causes for radiculopathy.

Now that you have a better idea of the general differences between the two conditions, we can delve deeper into the causes of radiculopathy and myelopathy.

Myelopathy vs. Radiculopathy: What Are the Causes?

In the last section, we covered the general causes of both radiculopathy and myelopathy. Radiculopathy is to the result of a nerve issue, often a pinched nerve, and myelopathy is the result of spinal compression. But what conditions lead to a nerve malfunction in the first place? And how do you compress your spine?

Radiculopathy’s nerve problems can be triggered by a few things. The most common of the nerve issues is a pinched or compressed nerve. Something is putting pressure on a nerve and pain can radiate from that nerve to other nerves. That being said, radiculopathy can also be caused by things like:

  • Damage to the nerve caused by disease or trauma
  • Irritation or inflammation of a nerve
  • Lack of blood flow to the nerve

Myelopathy is due to spinal compression. Often it is either a slipped disc or a compressed disc, but there are other causes. The process of aging can produce changes in your spine with ailments like arthritis. Bone spurs can form over time, causing compression to the spine and the issues that come with that. Other factors that can play into myelopathy are direct injury and trauma to the spine.

Myelopathy vs. Radiculopathy: The Symptoms

Again, the symptoms of radiculopathy and myelopathy are very similar in nature. For radiculopathy, the most common of symptoms is pain that radiates. This type of pain can spread from the original nerve to surrounding nerves. The pinched nerve can also cause numbness and weakness in the arms and legs. With myelopathy, the symptoms are almost identical, but the pain tends not to radiate. Instead, it sticks to the spine. Comparing myelopathy vs. radiculopathy symptoms also happens to be one of the steps to get an accurate diagnosis.

Myelopathy vs. Radiculopathy: How a Diagnosis Is Achieved

In diagnosing radiculopathy and myelopathy, the doctor will take into account a few factors. The first is your recent medical history, noting any injuries or trauma that may have occurred to the spine. A discussion about your symptoms will also take place as a way of ruling out certain other issues. If the doctor feels that the possibility of radiculopathy or myelopathy exists, tests will be ordered.

For radiculopathy, X-rays are usually used to help diagnose the issue, and a MRI or CT scan may be a possible follow-up test to confirm. With myelopathy, MRIs are the main test used for diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, you can move on to treatment.

Radiculopathy vs. Myelopathy: Treatment Options

Treatments for radiculopathy and myelopathy differ in a couple of different places. Myelopathy may be fairly hard to treat. Trauma and injury can be treated with surgery and physical therapy, but there are some injuries that require treating the symptoms instead through painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Radiculopathy is simpler in the treatment options. For radiculopathy, treatment usually consists of anti-inflammatories, exercises and posture correction.

Myelopathy and Radiculopathy Can Be Treated

The one thing that you can be sure of with myelopathy and radiculopathy is that neither experience will be pleasant. The possible pain and limb weakness can affect your quality of life, and emotionally speaking, it can be frightening. Luckily, there is a good chance that either can be treated, if properly diagnosed. If you feel you have any of the symptoms outlined above, especially weakness in the limbs, it is important go see a doctor.

The thought that you may be suffering from myelopathy or radiculopathy can be overwhelming, but the sooner you receive a diagnosis, the sooner you can start treating the issue.


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“Understanding the Differences between Radiculopathy and Myelopathy,” Orthogate, February 13, 2017; https://www.orthogate.org/articles/spine/understanding-the-differences-between-radiculopathy-and-myelopathy, last accessed August 1, 2017.
“Differences Between Myelopathy and Radiculopathy,” Difference Between; http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/differences-between-myelopathy-and-radiculopathy/, last accessed August 1, 2017.