Cervical Radiculopathy

What is cervical radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy is a general term used to describe nerve root irritation in the neck. The neck is a complex structure that routes messages to and from the brain to the rest of the body via the spinal cord. The spinal cords is surrounded by the bony structures of the neck for protection. As the nerves split off from the spinal cord in the neck, they exit through openings called foramen. Several causes can lead to narrowing of the foramen or the spinal canal, and this leads to pinching of the nerve roots of the neck. This can lead to radiculopathy, or neck pain that radiates down into the arms, hands or fingers. Patients often describe this as a “sharp”, “burning”, or “electric” type pain. This pain also can be associated with numbness, tingling or weakness due malfunctioning of the compressed nerve.

What are the symptoms of cervical radiculopathy?

  • Neck pain

  • Radiating or “shooting” pain down into the arms

  • Numbness, tingling or weakness

  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction

  • Clumsiness and loss of dexterity of the hands or arms

  • Increased pain when using arms, reaching overhead, or turning the neck

What are the causes of cervical radiculopathy?

While there are many possible causes of cervical radiculopathy, most are the result of bulging discs, spinal canal narrowing, or bone spurs. All of these causes will compress the nerve roots or the spinal cord and cause inflammation as well as the radiating pain that is characteristic of cervical radiculopathy. Other potential causes of radiating neck pain are thoracic outlet syndrome, musculoskeletal strain, cancer, infection, or trauma. It is important to be evaluated by a medical professional for this type of pain to rule out serious causes and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

What is the treatment of cervical radiculopathy?

First, you should consult with a physician to determine the source of your neck pain as the treatment can vary depending on the underlying cause. In addition to performing a history and physical exam, your physician may order imaging such as a MRI or CT scan. This will help identify where, if any, nerve compression could be occurring.

Fortunately, many cases of neck pain they tend to get better with only mild therapies such as rest, ice and time. However, a sizable portion of patients with symptoms of cervical radiculopathy continue to have pain despite conservative treatments. In this case, other therapies should be considered to improve quality of life and alleviate the pain. Depending on the source of the pain, these treatments can include:

  • Physical therapy

  • Neck bracing and traction

  • Procedures such as epidural steroid injections to target the area of nerve compression with steroid and local anesthetic

  • Medication management

  • Alternative therapies such as chiropractic care or acupuncture

  • Surgery to relieve severe or acute cases of nerve compression

  • Spinal cord stimulation

While the pain from cervical radiculopathy can be overwhelming, there is hope. With continued treatment, even refractory neck pain can improve greatly. Schedule an appointment with Cahaba Pain to work on reversing your pain and getting your life back today!