Radiculopathy is when a nerve root in the spinal column is pinched and can become inflamed, causing pain and discomfort. The symptoms and location can vary, and the location and nerve effected can impact a veteran’s VA disability rating for radiculopathy.
What Is Radiculopathy?
Radiculopathy is caused by a pinched nerve root in either the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar spine. The pinched nerve can cause pain and discomfort for veterans who experience it, and the pain is often experienced as numbness, tingling, or weakness.
This condition is commonly caused by back conditions such as herniated discs, stenosis, and bone spurs.
Cervical radiculopathy is when a veteran has a pinched nerve in their neck. When there is pressure on a nerve in the neck, a veteran can experience radiculopathy in their shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. The type of pain can vary from numbness, tingling or burning, and can also range in severity from mild to severe.
Thoracic radiculopathy occurs when a nerve in the upper back is pinched, and people may experience pain in their chest or torso area. This is the least common type.
Lumbar radiculopathy is a common condition among veterans. This occurs when a nerve in the lower portion of the back is pinched, and it can cause numbness and tingling in the hips and legs. Incontinence can also occur as a result.
Service Connection for Radiculopathy
Given that it is commonly caused by back conditions, radiculopathy is typically service connected on a secondary basis. Secondary service connection is when a veteran’s service-connected condition causes or aggravates a non-service-connected condition, and VA then service connects the secondary condition.
Radiculopathy is a great example of secondary service connection. For example, a veteran is service connected for degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. However, a few years after he was granted service connection, he was diagnosed with radiculopathy of his lower extremities as due to his service-connected degenerative disc disease. He can file a claim with VA for secondary service connection for his radiculopathy since it was caused by his degenerative disc disease.
Secondary conditions are rated the same as other service-connected conditions.
VA Ratings for Radiculopathy
The diagnostic code depends on which of the veteran’s nerves are impacted as well as if it results in one of the following:
- This means that that the nerve cannot function through either complete paralysis or partial paralysis. Paralysis ratings are broken up into four characterizations:
- Incomplete, severe
- Incomplete, moderate
- Incomplete, mild
- The nerve is still functioning but is swollen, painful, and irritated. Neuritis will require at least one of three things: decreased ability to sense; muscle atrophy; or loss of reflexes. The ratings for neuritis are broken up into three categories:
- This is when the nerve causes constant or occasional pain, often characterized by numbness or tingling. Neuralgia is broken up into two ratings:
Breaking Down the Nerve Groups
Under these characterizations, each nerve has its own disability rating for each level of severity.
Those with cervical radiculopathy will be rated within the upper radicular group, middle radicular group, and lower radicular group which include the musculospiral nerve, median nerve, axillary nerve, the musculocutaneous nerve, the long thoracic nerve, and the ulnar nerve.
The upper radicular group is rated under diagnostic codes 8510, 8610, and 8710.
Those with lumbar radiculopathy will be rated within the group of peripheral nerves of the low back and legs. The most commonly effected nerve for this type is the sciatic nerve, which is broken up into five separate nerves depending on which part of the leg is impacted. However, the most common rating for lumbar radiculopathy is under the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is rated under diagnostic codes 8520, 8620, and 8720