Radiculopathy is a condition in which one or more nerves become aggravated by abnormal pressure. When nerves become irritated or pinched they begin to operate ineffectively and information being relayed to the body becomes disrupted.
Cervical radiculopathy, commonly referred to as a “pinched nerve,” occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed by a damaged spinal disc. Inflammation and irritation put pressure on the nerve root where the nerve branches away from the spinal cord, causing pain to radiate down the arm.
Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy is caused by compression of a spinal nerve root in the neck that can be the result of degenerative changes to the bone, arthritis, ruptured discs, or acute injuries.
- As we age, “wear and tear” degenerative changes cause spinal discs to lose height, causing the disc to bulge or even collapse. The body responds to the loss of height by forming more bone, called bone spurs, which can compression the nerve branches in the spinal cord, and cause stiffness in the neck.
- Arthritic changes to the disc, also called spondylosis, are normal changes that occur in everyone. In fact, almost half of all people middle-aged and older have worn out discs and pinched nerves, but do not experience any pain or symptoms.
- Herniated discs can compress and disrupt nerve roots when the jelly-like center (nucleus) pushes through the outer ring (annulus) of the disc and puts pressure on sensitive nerve roots, causing pain and weakness.
Cervical radiculopathy is often described as a sharp, burning pain that starts at the neck and travels down the arm. Certain neck movements like extending, straining the neck, or turning the head may increase pain intensity. Other symptoms include:
- Tingling in the hand and fingers
- Weakness in the muscles of the arm, shoulder, or hand
- Loss of sensation
For the majority of patients, cervical radiculopathy gets better over time with conservative treatment options. It is also common for symptoms of cervical radiculopathy to return at some point in the future. Even when symptoms reoccur, it usually gets better with conservative treatment options.
Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Physical therapy can strengthen neck muscles, reduce pain, and improve range of motion
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can relive pain and swelling
- Oral corticosteroids can help reduce swelling and inflammation around the nerve root
- Steroid injections can help reduce swelling and inflammation around the nerve root
In some cases, cervical radiculopathy does not improve, and surgical intervention is required. There are several surgical procedures used to treat cervical radiculopathy. Talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of each procedure to determine which course of action is best for you.