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Pinched Nerve in the Neck: What You Need to Know About Cervical Radiculopathy

Updated: Apr 12, 2023


upper back getting stretched for pinched nerve in neck

Introduction to Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy is a condition that affects the nerves in the neck and can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the arms and hands. It is often caused by a pinched nerve in the cervical spine, which is the part of the spine that runs through the neck. In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for cervical radiculopathy, as well as ways to prevent and manage the condition.


What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy is a condition that occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated. The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae and the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord in this region are responsible for controlling sensation and movement in the arms and hands. When one of these nerves is compressed or irritated, it can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the affected area.


Cervical Radiculopathy Causes

The most common cause of cervical radiculopathy is cervical spondylosis, which is a degenerative condition that affects the discs and vertebrae in the cervical spine. As we age, the discs in our spine can become less flexible and can begin to lose their cushioning properties. This can lead to a condition called cervical spondylosis, which can cause the discs to bulge or herniate and can also cause bone spurs to develop. These changes can put pressure on the nerves in the cervical spine and can lead to cervical radiculopathy.

Other causes of cervical radiculopathy include:

  • Herniated disc: A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner material of a disc in the cervical spine protrudes through the tough outer layer and puts pressure on a nerve.

  • Spinal stenosis: Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

  • Trauma: A traumatic injury to the neck, such as whiplash from a car accident, can cause cervical radiculopathy.

  • Tumors: In rare cases, tumors can develop in the cervical spine and can put pressure on the nerves.

Cervical Radiculopathy Symptoms

The symptoms of cervical radiculopathy can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the nerve that is affected. Some common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Pain in the neck, shoulder, arm, or hand is the most common symptom of cervical radiculopathy. The pain may be described as a dull ache or a sharp, shooting pain.

  • Weakness: Weakness in the arm or hand may occur if the nerve that controls the affected muscle is compressed.

  • Numbness and tingling: Numbness and tingling in the arm or hand can occur if the nerve that controls sensation in the affected area is compressed.

  • Reflex changes: In some cases, the reflexes in the affected arm or hand may be altered.


Cervical Radiculopathy Diagnosis

To diagnose cervical radiculopathy, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and may order diagnostic tests such as an X-ray, MRI, or electromyography (EMG) to determine the location and severity of the nerve compression. Your healthcare provider may also perform a nerve conduction study, which measures the speed at which nerves conduct electrical signals, to determine the extent of the nerve damage.


Cervical Radiculopathy Treatment

There are several treatment options available for cervical radiculopathy, depending on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, conservative treatments such as rest, physical therapy, and pain medication may be effective. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure on the affected nerve.


1. Conservative Treatments:

  • Rest: Rest is an important part of the recovery process, and may involve limiting physical activities or using a neck brace or collar to immobilize the neck and allow the affected area to heal.

  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can help to relieve pain and improve range of motion in the neck and shoulders. It may involve exercises to strengthen the muscles in the neck and shoulders, as well as stretching and massage to relieve tension and improve flexibility.

  • Pain Medication: Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help to relieve mild to moderate pain. In more severe cases, prescription medications such as muscle relaxants or opioids may be necessary.

2. Surgical Treatments:

  • Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF): ACDF is a common surgical procedure used to treat cervical radiculopathy caused by a herniated disc. The surgeon removes the damaged disc and replaces it with a bone graft, which then fuses with the adjacent vertebrae.

  • Posterior Cervical Laminectomy: In some cases, the compression of the nerve may be caused by bone spurs or other growths on the vertebrae. A posterior cervical laminectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing a portion of the vertebral arch to relieve pressure on the affected nerve.

  • Cervical Artificial Disc Replacement: This procedure involves replacing the damaged disc with an artificial disc, which can help to maintain the natural range of motion in the neck.

Cervical Radiculopathy Exercises for Pain Relief

In addition to the above treatments, specific exercises may help to relieve the pain and discomfort associated with cervical radiculopathy. Here are a few exercises that may be beneficial:

1.Chin Tucks:

  • Sit or stand with your back straight.

  • Slowly tuck your chin in towards your chest, keeping your neck straight.

  • Hold for 5 seconds, then release.

  • Repeat 10 times.

2.Shoulder Blade Squeezes:

  • Sit or stand with your back straight.

  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together, as if trying to hold a pencil between them.

  • Hold for 5 seconds, then release.

  • Repeat 10 times.

3.Cervical Spine Rotation:

  • Sit or stand with your back straight.

  • Slowly turn your head to one side, looking over your shoulder.

  • Hold for 5 seconds, then return to the starting position.

  • Repeat on the other side.

  • Repeat 10 times.

Preventing Cervical Radiculopathy

While it may not be possible to completely prevent cervical radiculopathy, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  • Practice good posture: Sit and stand up straight, with your shoulders back and your head in a neutral position.

  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help to strengthen the muscles in your neck and shoulders and reduce your risk of developing cervical radiculopathy.

  • Use proper lifting techniques: When lifting heavy objects, bend at the knees and keep your back straight to avoid straining your neck and back.

Conclusion

Cervical radiculopathy is a common condition that can cause pain, weakness, and numbness in the arms and hands. It is often caused by a pinched nerve in the cervical spine and can be the result of various conditions, such as herniated discs, bone spurs, or degenerative disc disease.


There are several treatment options available for cervical radiculopathy, ranging from conservative measures such as physical therapy and medications, to more invasive options such as surgery. It is important to work with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs.


In addition to medical treatment, there are also lifestyle changes that can help manage the symptoms of cervical radiculopathy. Maintaining good posture, avoiding activities that cause pain or discomfort, and participating in regular exercise and stretching can all help improve symptoms and prevent further damage.


If you are experiencing symptoms of cervical radiculopathy, it is important to seek medical attention to receive a proper diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment. With proper treatment and management, most people are able to successfully manage their symptoms and return to their daily activities.


At Dr Sahil's Advanced Physiotherapy Clinic, we understand the impact that cervical radiculopathy can have on your daily life. Our experienced team of physiotherapists can work with you to create a personalized treatment plan that addresses your unique needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards managing your cervical radiculopathy.


Reference articles:

  1. Kelly, J. C., Groarke, P. J., Butler, J. S., & Poynton, A. R. (2010). An evaluation of cervical radiculopathy and surgical approaches. Clinical neurology and neurosurgery, 112(5), 420-424.

  2. Gallagher, R. M., & Gross, A. (2013). Chronic pain and chiropractic. In Integrative Pain Management (pp. 355-366). Springer, New York, NY.



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