Cervical radiculopathy, also known as a pinched nerve, happens when a nerve in the neck becomes irritated or compressed.
It can be very painful and may affect a person’s quality of life. Usually, it resolves on its own, but physical therapy and medication can help speed the healing process.
This article looks at cervical radiculopathy in more detail, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Cervical radiculopathy is a condition that affects a cervical spinal nerve root.
The cervical spine runs from the head to the shoulders and contains seven vertebrae. Various nerves run through these vertebrae.
When a nerve in the neck becomes compressed, irritated, or damaged, this can cause pain.
There are many possible causes of cervical radiculopathy.
As a person gets older, many degenerative changes can occur. When these affect the spine, the condition is known as spondylosis.
Some people may develop arthritis, which also involves inflammation of the joints. The degree of severity varies greatly among individuals, and in many cases, a person can manage their symptoms with medication.
One possible age-related degenerative change is the weakening of the disks that sit between the seven vertebrae in the cervical spine. These disks may stiffen, dry out, or become displaced, putting pressure on the nerves. Both degenerative disk disease and disk herniation can cause cervical radiculopathy.
A condition called cervical foraminal stenosis may also occur as a person ages. This puts pressure on the nerves when holes in the bone become too narrow. According to
Injury or trauma
In younger individuals, cervical radiculopathy may happen if a person injures their neck or has a slipped disk. This means that one of the cushioning disks between the vertebrae has moved out of place. It can push into the spinal canal, placing excess pressure on the nerves.
A person can herniate a disk due to a single injury or as a result of repetitive heavy lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting motions.
Fractures in the cervical spine may also cause cervical radiculopathy.
Tumor or cancer
In rare cases, cancer or a tumor may cause cervical radiculopathy. This is because the tumor may grow in a place that places pressure on nerve roots.
An infection in the cervical spine may cause inflammation or damage the nerve roots.
Sarcoidosis is a rare condition that can cause swollen tissue in any part of the body.
Although it most frequently affects the skin and lungs, swollen tissue may also appear in the cervical spine. If this occurs, it may result in a pinched nerve.
Anybody with cervical radiculopathy
Other symptoms include:
- arm, shoulder, or hand weakness
- tingling or numbness in the hand and arm
- a loss of sensation in the hands, arms, or neck
- holding the head to one side
When diagnosing cervical radiculopathy, a doctor will evaluate a person’s symptoms and perform a physical examination. They may test for signs of muscle weakness, problems with sensation, and reflex response.
A person may also need to undergo a test called electromyography. This measures electrical impulses and can help doctors determine whether nerves are working properly.
There are many different options for the treatment of cervical radiculopathy.
Doctors may recommend that a person wear a cervical collar, also known as a neck brace. This restricts movement and allows the neck muscles to relax.
Neck braces are soft, comfortable, and usually adjustable, but they are only suitable for short-term use.
Physical therapy exercises
Physical therapy is a conservative, accessible option that doctors often recommend as a first-line treatment method.
During sessions, a therapist will guide an individual through exercises. These may help reduce pain, strengthen the muscles, and increase range of motion.
A therapist may use traction, also known as decompression therapy. The aim of this is to stretch the area and reduce pressure, which can relieve pain.
If physical therapy exercises do not help, a doctor may recommend medication.
Some people may find that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, offer sufficient relief. They can help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with nerve damage.
If necessary, a doctor may prescribe a short course of oral corticosteroids to alleviate swelling and inflammation. Alternatively, they can administer corticosteroids via an injection.
If a person has severe pain, a doctor may prescribe a short course of narcotics. These are much stronger than NSAIDs and corticosteroid medications, but they can cause constipation. They are also among the prescription drugs that people most commonly misuse. Due to this, people should only take them for a short period.
In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to treat cervical radiculopathy. The types of surgery that a doctor may recommend include:
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion: During this procedure, the surgeon removes the disk that is causing problems. They then fuse the spine using spine grafts. However, this may limit neck movement.
- Artificial disk replacement: This involves a surgeon removing the problematic disk and replacing it with an artificial one. It provides more flexibility than anterior cervical discectomy and fusion procedures.
- Posterior cervical laminoforaminotomy: During this procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in the back of the neck. They then scrape down the back of the spinal canal and remove any problematic bone spurs, disks, or tissues. This does not require spinal fusion, so a person can retain neck flexibility.
If a person has neck pain and suspects that they might have cervical radiculopathy, they should contact a doctor. It is also important to seek medical attention if the pain starts after a trauma or injury, such as a car accident or fall.
The doctor will ask about the person’s symptoms and medical history before conducting a physical examination. They may then refer the person for more tests before recommending suitable treatment options.
Cervical radiculopathy is a condition that affects nerves in the neck.
These nerves can become compressed, resulting in neck, arm, and shoulder pain.
This can occur for a variety of reasons, but it most commonly involves degenerative causes or injury.
Many treatments are available to treat the condition, including medications, physical therapy, and surgical interventions.