Disability Lawyer


Radiculopathy: The Effect on Your Extremities

Radiculopathy is pain that is caused by nerve impingement.  Symptoms of radiculopathy include pain, numbness, weakness, and loss of motor function.  Social Security evaluates radiculopathy under Listing 1.04.  Listing 1.04A discusses radiculopathy from the lumbar spine that radiates to the applicant’s legs. Listing1.04A also discusses radiculopathy from the cervical spine that radiates to the applicant’s arms.  Under Listing 1.04, Social Security requires an impairment of spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture, or herniated nucleus pulpous that cause impingement of a nerve root or spinal cord.  Under Listing 1.04 A, the above condition must cause nerve root impingement.  In return, the nerve root impingement must cause pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss, sensory or reflex loss and positive straight leg testing either sitting or standing.   Motor loss is measured by atrophy with muscle weakness. A positive straight leg raising test is only for the legs.  Social Security also looks for assistive devices that help with balance due to muscle weakness.  Social Security requires assistive devices, like a cane, to be prescribed by a treating doctor.  In order to be diagnosed with radiculopathy, doctors first prescribe physical therapy.  If symptoms persist, the doctor will order an X-ray.   If an X-ray does not reveal an impingement, the doctor will then order an MRI.  An MRI is more effective in revealing nerve impingements than X-rays.     Once an MRI reveals nerve impingement or possible nerve impingement, your primary doctor will refer the applicant to see an orthopedic doctor.  It is important to make an appointment with the orthopedic doctor because orthopedic doctors are specialists.  Social Security gives greater weight in regards to the orthopedic doctor’s notes and opinions.  The orthopedic doctor will do an examination of the application’s range of motion and will review the MRI.  The orthopedic doctor will then order steroid injections and physical therapy.  If the injections and/or physical therapy do not help, the orthopedic doctor will do additional testing.  Some other testing that the orthopedic doctor may use are EMGs, CT Scans, and myelograms.  These additional tests will allow the orthopedic doctors to better pinpoint where the nerve is impinged.  Once the orthopedic doctor knows where the nerve is impinged, the orthopedic doctor may recommend surgery.  Depending on where the nerve is impinged, an orthopedic doctor may recommend a fusion surgery, laminectomy surgery, or hemilaminectomy surgery.  With any type of surgery, there is a certain amount of risk.  The orthopedic doctor should cover these risks with the applicant. Once the surgery is completed on the applicant, an orthopedic doctor will continue to follow up with the applicant to make sure everything is healing correctly.  It is always important to follow your doctor’s recommendations in order to increase the applicant’s chances of the surgery being a success.  It is important to not smoke after the surgery.  Smoking slows down the bone growth and as a result, slows down the healing process after surgery.  The longer it takes to heal, the longer the applicant has radiculopathy symptoms.  Radiculopathy is a serious condition.   The longer the radiculopathy goes on, the greater damage to the muscle loss and weakness in the extremities.  In the end, being proactive with your doctor and following doctor’s orders will increase your chance of having a successful surgery.