Learn More About Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy happens when a nerve in your neck is irritated or compressed at the place where it exists your spine. The sensations this causes can include pain, pinching, numbness, and tingling. Usually referred to as a pinched nerve, this condition can be debilitatingly painful. However, sufferers can find relief with proper diagnosis and treatment.

What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

In the most simple terms, radiculopathy is like sciatica that occurs in your neck and arms. Like sciatica, it is caused by pinched nerves in the vertebrae of the neck. It can occur anywhere along the spine but is called cervical radiculopathy when it occurs in the neck region. It can involve the compression or irritation of a single nerve root or several. Since these nerve roots travel down to your shoulders, arms, and hands, it is not uncommon for the pain from cervical radiculopathy to travel as well.

Common Cervical Radiculopathy Symptoms

The most common symptom of cervical radiculopathy is pain that radiates into the upper back, shoulders, chest, neck, and arms. The severity depends on how badly the nerve is irritated or compressed and how many nerves are involved. Symptoms may come on gradually or occur all at once.

People with radiculopathy may also experience numbness, tingling or weakness in their fingers or hands. The feeling may be similar to hitting your "funny bone”. Since these nerves are involved in helping you move your body, you may experience weakness or difficulty moving. People with cervical radiculopathy may also experience a lack of coordination, especially in their hands.

It may be difficult to lift things or to raise your arms above your head if you are suffering from cervical radiculopathy.

In some cases, the pain of cervical radiculopathy will present itself as a headache that is felt in the back of the neck.

Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy

In about 25% of cases, cervical radiculopathy is caused by herniated discs. The discs in your spine are cushions between your vertebrae. They act as shock absorbers. Discs can bulge, burst or become otherwise damaged. When this happens, pinched nerves can be a result.

In some cases, degenerative disc disease can lead to radiculopathy, as the disc is damaged and the surrounding bone develops bone spurs. These spurs can put pressure on nearby nerves or completely block them.

While anyone can develop cervical radiculopathy, it is more common in adults than children. Cervical radiculopathy affects seniors more often than younger people.

How Doctors Diagnose Cervical Radiculopathy

Diagnosis of radiculopathy begins with a physical exam. Your doctor will also request a patient history and possibly a neurological exam.

Other tests may be required to confirm cervical radiculopathy. These can include:

  • X-rays of the neck.
  • Nerve conduction studies.
  • MRIs.
  • CT scans.

Cervical Radiculopathy Treatment Options

Many patients obtain relief from radiculopathy symptoms with the help of medication, physical therapy or nerve blocks. Common medications for the treatment of radiculopathy can include muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, or OTC or prescription pain medications.

Short term rest of the affected area can help speed healing. A cervical collar can be used to provide support and limit neck motion during healing.

Physical therapy, hot and cold therapy, massage and acupuncture can also provide relief.

Interventional pain management treatments can also be used to speed relief. These can be especially useful if you are experiencing severe pain that has not responded to more conservative treatments. These treatments can include:

  • Transforaminal epidural steroid injection. With this treatment, medication is focused on the nerve fibers that compose the sciatic nerve. As a result, a concentrated amount of medication is delivered to the area.
  • Cervical epidural steroid injections. Like the procedure above, this involves the injection of medication. Medication here is injected into the epidural space. This is the same pain relief treatment that is given to pregnant women during labor. A small amount of medication is injected to eliminate pain.
  • Spinal cord stimulation (SCS). When inflammation around and in the sciatic nerves is too great for an epidural injection to be used, SCS can be performed instead. In this treatment, an electrical pulse is delivered directly to the spine to block neuron fibers access to the brain. This, in turn, prevents the brain from sensing the pain.

In a small percentage of cases, surgery may be necessary to fix the cause of cervical radiculopathy. Surgical intervention may be called for in cases of the loss of bladder or bowel control, the presence of a neurological problem or other issues. Most surgical solutions for cervical radiculopathy are minimally invasive; only a small incision is used. The damaged disc will be removed in most cases. Most cervical radiculopathy surgeries can be performed on an outpatient basis or will require only a short stay in the hospital.

Request a Consultation

You do not have to live with the pain and numbness that cervical radiculopathy can cause. With proper treatment, it is possible to experience relief from symptoms. Dr. Michael T. Harris founded Performance & Regenerative Medicine to help our patients cope with pain. Whether your pain issues are the result of sports injuries, degenerative disc issues or something else, we want to help. Get in touch for a consultation today.