Key Points about Cervical Radiculopathy
- Cervical radiculopathy is also known commonly as a pinched nerve in the neck.
- Your spinal cord runs through the center of your vertebrae (small bones that make up the spine). Nerves from the spinal cord travel between the vertebrae and all areas of your body. Cervical radiculopathy occurs when the nerves are pinched.
- Cervical radiculopathy may occur when a herniated disk or arthritic bone spur places pressure on the nerves in the neck.
- Typically, patients who suffer from cervical radiculopathy experience radiating arm pain and numbness, sensory issues, or motor problems in the upper extremities and neck.
- Cervical radiculopathy can be diagnosed with imaging technology such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
- While many patients improve over time with non-operative treatments, some patients experience symptom relief with minimally invasive surgery.
- Cervical radiculopathy is a common condition.
Cervical radiculopathy, also known as a pinched nerve, is an orthopedic condition that occurs when a herniated disk or arthritic bone spur compresses a nerve in the neck.
When the nerve roots in the cervical area are damaged, you may experience severe pain and/or a loss of sensation along the nerve pathway to various areas of the body such as the arms and hands.
Cervical radiculopathy causes
Cervical radiculopathy generally is caused by several conditions that affect the tissues around the nerve roots. Conditions that may cause the tissues to shift or change in size include:
- Ruptured disk
- Degenerative bone issues
- Traumatic injuries that pinch the nerve roots
- Spinal stenosis
- Infection in the spine
- Cancer in the spine
- Benign growths in the neck
Degeneration, as a result of aging, can lead to changing pressure on the nerve roots.
Many younger patients develop cervical radiculopathy from a ruptured disk after a traumatic accident.
Cervical radiculopathy symptoms
The most common symptom of cervical radiculopathy is sharp pain in the neck, back, arms, shoulders, or hands.
Other common symptoms of cervical neuropathy include:
- Weaknesses in the neck, arms, and shoulders
- Tingling or numbness in the affected area
- Inability to move your hand
Some patients do not experience any symptoms associated with cervical neuropathy, while others experience severe pain. The intensity of your symptoms will depend upon the location of the pinched nerve and the number of nerves affected.
Cervical radiculopathy complications
Complications associated with cervical radiculopathy include:
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Acute and chronic neck pain
Cervical radiculopathy risk factors
Risk factors associated with cervical radiculopathy include:
- Lifting more than 25 pounds consistently in the course of your job
- Operating equipment that vibrates
- Having a spinal infection or tumor in the spine
Cervical radiculopathy prevention
Some cases of cervical radiculopathy can be prevented. You can improve your chances of avoiding cervical radiculopathy by staying in shape, maintaining a healthy BMI as well as using proper techniques when playing sports or lifting heavy objects.
Cervical radiculopathy diagnosis
Cervical neuropathy can be diagnosed during a physical exam with your primary care doctor or orthopedic physician. During the physical exam, your doctor will evaluate your muscle strength and reflexes to determine where the affected root is.
In most cases, your doctor will order diagnostic tests such as:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Electromyography - Nerve conduction study that can determine if your condition is muscular or neurological.
Cervical radiculopathy treatment
The goals of treating cervical radiculopathy are to relieve pain and prevent recurrent injury.
Nonsurgical treatment is generally recommended as a first-line treatment for cervical radiculopathy.
Nonsurgical treatments may include:
- Symptoms associated with cervical neuropathy can be managed with medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants.
- Physical therapy. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to strengthen your muscles in the neck, upper back, and shoulders.
- Steroid injections. For patients who are experiencing persistent pain, a steroid injection into the cervical nerve may help relieve your symptoms.
- Minimally invasive surgery. In rare cases, surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure on the affected nerve root. During the surgery, your doctor will widen the area where the nerve root exits the spine by removing parts or all a disk or vertebrae.
When to Seek Care
If you are experiencing moderate to severe pain, tingling or numbness, or are unable to move your neck or arms, call your doctor right away. Your doctor will give you instructions on the next steps.
In severe cases, you may need to go to the emergency room. Other cases may be treated with conservative measures until your doctor’s appointment.
If you have symptoms associated with a pinched nerve, call your doctor to schedule an appointment.
Prior to your appointment, talk to your doctor or nurse about what medications you can take to relieve pain.
Modify your activity level to prevent your condition from worsening.
After treatment, carefully follow your doctor's orders to ensure the quickest recovery. If your symptoms worsen or intensify after treatment, call your doctor right away.