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The Role of Spinal Nerve Roots in Radiculopathy


When sciatica or other radiating nerve pain presents, can learning to distinguish between nerve pain and different types of pain help individuals recognize when spinal nerve roots are irritated or compressed or more serious problems that require medical attention?

The Role of Spinal Nerve Roots in Radiculopathy

Spinal Nerve Roots and Dermatomes

Spinal conditions such as herniated discs and stenosis can lead to radiating pain that travels down one arm or leg. Other symptoms include weakness, numbness, and/or shooting or burning electrical sensations. The medical term for pinched nerve symptoms is radiculopathy (National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2020). Dermatomes could contribute to irritation in the spinal cord, where the nerve roots cause symptoms in the back and limbs.


The spinal cord has 31 segments.

  • Each segment has nerve roots on the right and left that supply motor and sensory functions to the limbs.
  • The anterior and posterior communicating branches combine to form the spinal nerves that exit the vertebral canal.
  • The 31 spine segments result in 31 spinal nerves.
  • Each one transmits sensory nerve input from a specific skin region on that side and area of the body.
  • These regions are called dermatomes.
  • Except for the first cervical spinal nerve, dermatomes exist for each spinal nerve.
  • The spinal nerves and their associated dermatomes form a network all over the body.

Dermatomes Purpose

Dermatomes are the body/skin areas with sensory input assigned to individual spinal nerves. Each nerve root has an associated dermatome, and various branches supply each dermatome off that single nerve root. Dermatomes are pathways through which sensational information in the skin transmits signals to and from the central nervous system. Sensations that are physically felt, like pressure and temperature, get transmitted to the central nervous system. When a spinal nerve root becomes compressed or irritated, usually because it comes into contact with another structure, it results in radiculopathy. (National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2020).


Radiculopathy describes symptoms caused by a pinched nerve along the spine. Symptoms and sensations depend on where the nerve is pinched and the extent of the compression.


  • This is a syndrome of pain and/or sensorimotor deficiencies when nerve roots in the neck are compressed.
  • It often presents with pain that goes down one arm.
  • Individuals may also experience electrical sensations like pins and needles, shocks, and burning sensations, as well as motor symptoms like weakness and numbness.


  • This radiculopathy results from compression, inflammation, or injury to a spinal nerve in the lower back.
  • Sensations of pain, numbness, tingling, electrical or burning sensations, and motor symptoms like weakness traveling down one leg are common.


Part of a radiculopathy physical examination is testing the dermatomes for sensation. The practitioner will use specific manual tests to determine the spinal level from which the symptoms originate. Manual exams are often accompanied by diagnostic imaging tests like MRI, which can show abnormalities in the spinal nerve root. A complete physical examination will determine if the spinal nerve root is the source of the symptoms.

Treating Underlying Causes

Many back disorders can be treated with conservative therapies to provide effective pain relief. For a herniated disk, for example, individuals may be recommended to rest and take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic, non-surgical traction, or decompression therapies may also be prescribed. For severe pain, individuals may be offered an epidural steroid injection that can provide pain relief by reducing inflammation. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. 2022) For spinal stenosis, a provider may first focus on physical therapy to improve overall fitness, strengthen the abdominals and back muscles, and preserve motion in the spine. Pain-relieving medications, including NSAIDs and corticosteroid injections, can reduce inflammation and relieve pain. (American College of Rheumatology. 2023) Physical therapists provide various therapies to decrease symptoms, including manual and mechanical decompression and traction. Surgery may be recommended for cases of radiculopathy that don’t respond to conservative treatments.

Injury Medical Chiropractic and Functional Medicine Clinic care plans and clinical services are specialized and focused on injuries and the complete recovery process. Our areas of practice include Wellness & Nutrition, Chronic Pain, Personal Injury, Auto Accident Care, Work Injuries, Back Injury, Low Back Pain, Neck Pain, Migraine Headaches, Sports Injuries, Severe Sciatica, Scoliosis, Complex Herniated Discs, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Complex Injuries, Stress Management, Functional Medicine Treatments, and in-scope care protocols. We focus on restoring normal body functions after trauma and soft tissue injuries using Specialized Chiropractic Protocols, Wellness Programs, Functional and integrative Nutrition, Agility, and mobility Fitness Training, and Rehabilitation Systems for all ages. If the individual requires other treatment, they will be referred to a clinic or physician best suited for their condition. Dr. Jimenez has teamed with the top surgeons, clinical specialists, medical researchers, therapists, trainers, and premiere rehabilitation providers to bring El Paso, the top clinical treatments, to our community.

Reclaim Your Mobility: Chiropractic Care For Sciatica Recovery


National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2020). Low back pain fact sheet. Retrieved from www.ninds.nih.gov/sites/default/files/migrate-documents/low_back_pain_20-ns-5161_march_2020_508c.pdf

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. (2022). Herniated disk in the lower back. orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/herniated-disk-in-the-lower-back/

American College of Rheumatology. (2023). Spinal stenosis. rheumatology.org/patients/spinal-stenosis

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Professional Scope of Practice *

The information herein on "The Role of Spinal Nerve Roots in Radiculopathy" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from various disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

email: coach@elpasofunctionalmedicine.com

Licensed as a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) in Texas & New Mexico*
Texas DC License # TX5807, New Mexico DC License # NM-DC2182

Licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN*) in Florida
Florida License RN License # RN9617241 (Control No. 3558029)
License Compact Status: Multi-State License: Authorized to Practice in 40 States*
Presently Matriculated: ICHS: MSN* FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner Program)

Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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