Our spinal cord is a tubular structure consisting of a bundle of nerves, which extends from the base of the brain till the second lumbar vertebrae. There are various segments in the spinal cord from which exit the spinal nerves. In males, the length of the spinal cord in 18 inches and in females it is 17 inches. There are 31 nerve segments in the spinal cord which are divided in to 8 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar 5 sacral and 1 coccygeal. Any injury to the spinal cord and its nerves can produce symptoms that may range from pain to complete paralysis, based on the severity of the injury.
There are two conditions namely Myelopathy and Radiculopathy which may be caused due to an injury to the spinal cord. We will know about these two conditions in this article. Here we will know about the differences between these two conditions where we will talk about their symptoms, causes, and diagnosis and treatment procedures.
Myelopathy Vs Radiculopathy: Differences worth knowing!
Go through the following sections in order to find out the differences between Myelopathy and Radiculopathy, based on their causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments.
Myelopathy Vs Radiculopathy: Basic Differences
Myelopathy is the term used for a pinched nerve in the spinal cord.1 This condition affects the entire spinal cord and can be difficult to detect as it usually develops gradually in older people who slowly lose strength and become less active naturally. There may be difficulty in doing certain things like walking up and climbing down stairs, fastening buttons of your shirts etc; if you have myelopathy.
In Radiculopathy, the source of the pain is at the root of the nerve where it connects to the spine. This is the term used for a pinched nerve or nerves along the spine.2 The pressure where the spinal nerve connected to the spine or the nerve root can cause pain, weakness and various other symptoms in radiculopathy. This is different from myelopathy in the fact that in this case there is a pressure in the spinal nerve roots at specific points; whereas in case of myelopathy, there the entire spinal cord is affected. It must be noted that though in case of radiculopathy the pressure or the source of the pain is on spinal nerve roots, you may also feel the pain elsewhere throughout the body. For example, pressure on nerve root in your neck may lead to pain and weakness in forearm.
Myelopathy Vs Radiculopathy: Differences Based on the Cause
Myelopathy is basically caused by narrowing of the spinal canal or the space around the spinal cord. This happens with aging. And our spine changes with growing age, bone spurs and arthritis make the spinal canal much smaller or narrower. This narrowing of the spinal canal is known as spinal stenosis.3 With narrowing of the spinal canal, bone spurs and other tissue may press on the spinal cord and the nerve roots which can affect the normal functioning of the nerve.
Radiculopathy can be caused by a pinched nerve, a nerve that is inflamed or irritated, or a nerve that is not working because of low blood supply or a nerve that is damaged because of any disease condition.
Myelopathy Vs Radiculopathy: Differences in their Symptoms
The signs and symptoms depend on the level of severity of the condition. However, most common symptoms that develop in myelopathy include weakness, clumsiness and altered tone of the muscle; along with irregularities in bowel and bladder, sexual dysfunction etc. There may also be sensory changes like decreased or increased sensory perception in case of patients with myelopathy. There is a loss of balance or loss of coordination in myelopathy.
In case of radiculopathy, depending on the location of the nerve involved, symptoms can be neck pain and hand tingling, backache with pain radiating to the leg. Sometimes the pain in radiculopathy increases while sneezing, coughing or while lifting heavy weights. Patients with radiculopathy may also sometimes experience symptoms of numbness of skin in the leg or foot or may experience a loss of reflexes.
Myelopathy Vs Radiculopathy: Differences in Diagnosis
Diagnosis of myelopathy is done primarily by MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The diagnosis is done clinically by locating the segment of the spinal cord that is involved, depending on the signs and the symptoms experienced by the patients.
Myelopathy Vs Radiculopathy: Differences in Treatments
Now, coming to the treatments for myelopathy and radiculopathy it can be said that unlike radiculopathy, myelopathy may be fairly difficult to treat. It must be mentioned that complete treatment of patients with myelopathy rarely happens. Treatment may include posture stabilisation in case trauma is the cause for the condition. However in case the causative factors for myelopathy if a person has tumor or cysts then surgical removal is essential for providing the relief.
In case of treatment for radiculopathy, it is easier to relieve the symptoms. Treatment involving painkillers, anti inflammatory drugs, exercises, posture corrections, yoga and specific relaxation techniques would help you come out of the symptoms of radiculopathy in an effective manner. By following the treatments one can experience improvements in symptoms within one and half month of the treatments.
So, with all these above information we can summarize that myelopathy is the result of the spinal cord getting affected because of a number of causes, while the involvement of a nerve root or nerve roots is radiculopathy. Moreover, symptomatic treatments for radiculopathy are easier than myelopathy treatment.
Kindly reach to a medical professional in case you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above and get yourself properly diagnosed for your condition and go for the best treatments.
- Radiculopathy or Radicular Pain
- Lumbar Radiculopathy or Sciatica
- Cervical Radiculopathy
- What is Cervical Myelopathy & How is it Treated?
- Acute Transverse Myelopathy (ATM)