Radiculopathy: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Radiculopathy Definition and Meaning

Radiculopathy refers to issues or changes with nerves in the spine, such as inflammation, irritation, or injury. This condition is sometimes called a “pinched nerve.” While most people use the term pinched nerve, it’s worth noting that many times, a “pinched nerve” is actually an irritated nerve. 

Radiculopathy can cause discomfort, numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in different parts of the body, depending on the location of the affected nerve.

Radiculopathy Types

Radiculopathy can occur in any part of the spine, leading to cervical radiculopathy in the neck, thoracic radiculopathy in the upper back, or lumbar radiculopathy in the low back.

Radiculopathy Symptoms

Symptoms of radiculopathy vary depending on the nerve root's location: 

  • Cervical radiculopathy: Pain in the neck, shoulder, arm, and hand, including tingling, numbness, and weakness.

  • Thoracic radiculopathy: Tingling, pain, and numbness in the upper back, possibly extending to the front of the body.

  • Lumbar radiculopathy: This affects the lower back, potentially causing sciatica pain, as well as numbness and weakness in the legs.

Radiculopathy: A Hinge Health Perspective

Learning about conditions that cause pain can be alarming. We know from Hinge Health members and research studies that anatomical labels can backfire when it comes to your treatment and recovery. When people hear they may have a condition like radiculopathy or that they've “pinched” a nerve, it can cause feelings of panic, like you have something "wrong" that needs to be fixed. This way of thinking about pain is largely outdated.

For most common musculoskeletal conditions, regardless of what may or may not be contributing to pain in your tissues, the solution is often the same. Movement — through physical and exercise therapy — can help relieve the issues contributing to radiculopathy, which can ease symptoms and prevent them from recurring.

Radiculopathy Treatment

Most of the time, radiculopathy gets better on its own after a few weeks. Lifestyle modifications, like focusing on gentle movements and exercises, can help minimize pain and speed up recovery by helping to calm down the nerve and build support and strength along the spine. Continuing to move will also teach your body and mind that it’s safe to be active.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms or location of the pinched nerve, other treatments can include over-the-counter and prescription medication, physical therapy, ice and heat therapy, massage, steroid injections, and, in some cases, surgery. 

How Physical Therapy Can Help With Radiculopathy

Physical therapy can aid in easing pain and other symptoms related to radiculopathy. A physical therapist (PT) can create a personalized exercise and stretching plan, which can include range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercises, to promote healthy nerves and tissues in your neck and back, relieve pain, and improve posture. This approach can help strengthen muscles, enhance flexibility, and reduce the likelihood of future pinched nerves. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Treating a pinched nerve. (2021, June 26). Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/treating-a-pinched-nerve 

  2. Liang, L, Feng, M., Cui, X., Zhou, S., Yin, X., Wang, X., Yang, M., Liu, C., Xie, R., Zhu, L., Yu, J., & Wei, X. The Effect of Exercise on Cervical Radiculopathy: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis. (2019). Medicine, 98(45), e17733. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017733 

  3. Radiculopathy. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/radiculopathy 

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