What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy, also known as a “pinched nerve” occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated at the point where it branches away from the spinal cord. As a result, pain may radiate into the shoulder, in addition to muscle weakness and numbness that travels down the arm and into the hand.

Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy

Damage from cervical radiculopathy can occur as a result of pressure from ruptured disc material, degenerative changes in bones, arthritis or other injuries that put pressure on the nerve roots. In middle-aged people, normal degenerative changes in the discs can cause pressure on nerve roots. In younger people, cervical radiculopathy tends to be the result of trauma, such as a ruptured disc. This disc material then compresses or inflames the nerve root, causing pain.

Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy

Pain that spreads into the arm, neck, chest, upper back and/or shoulders is the primary symptom of cervical radiculopathy. A person with radiculopathy may experience muscle weakness and/or numbness or tingling in the fingers or hands. Other symptoms may include lack of coordination, especially in the hands.

Treatments of Cervical Radiculopathy

Typically, cervical radiculopathy is treated with a combination of pain medications such as corticosteroids (powerful anti-inflammatory drugs) or non-steroidal pain medication (such as ibuprofen or naproxen) as well as physical therapy. Steroids may be prescribed either orally or injected epidurally (into the space above the dura, which is the membrane surrounding the spinal cord).

Physical therapy might include gentle cervical traction and mobilization, exercises, and other modalities to reduce pain. If significant compression on the nerve exists to the extent that motor weakness results, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure.