Cervical Radiculopathy: More than just a “Pinched Nerve”

cervical-radiculopathy

Cervical Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve) Overview

Compression and irritation of nerve in the neck may branches away from spinal cord. This causes pain that travels towards the shoulder, causes muscle weaknesses that radiates down the arm and into the hand. This occurrence is called Cervical Radiculopathy or more commonly known as a pinched nerve.

Our bodies adapt and change as we age and this causes a “wear and tear” in our bodies. Particularly in older people, they may experience arthritis. In younger people, a sudden injury that results in a herniated disk is often the of cervical radiculopathy.

In most cases, conservative treatments such as medication and physical therapy work best to treat cervical radiculopathy.

Degenerative changes that arise in the spine is  most often leads to cervical radiculopathy, as we age or from an injury that causes the intervertebral disk to bulge.

Cervical Radiculopathy Symptoms

A burning, sharp sensation is felt from the neck and travels down the arm, right where the area served by the damaged nerve. Other systems include:

  • Pins and needles” feeling or tingling in the fingers or hand
  • Fragile arm, shoulder, or hand muscles
  • Loss of sensation

Cervical Radiculopathy Tests

  • X-rays These produce images of dense structures, such as bone. An x-ray will show the alit of bones along your neck. It can also detect any narrowing of the foramen and damage to the disks.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scans More comprehensive than a plain x-ray, a CT scan can help doctors determine whether you have developed bone spurs near the foramen in your cervical spine.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scans These studies construct better images of the body’s soft tissues. An MRI of the neck can show if nerve compression is the caused of soft tissue damage. It can also detect whether there is any damage to your spinal cord or nerve roots.
  • Electromyography (EMG) Electromyography assesses the electrical impulses of the muscles at rest and during contractions. Nerve conduction studies are often done along with EMG to determine if a nerve is functioning normally.
  • Cervical Radiculopathy Treatment This condition gets better over time and usually do not need any treatments but if a patient asks, their different ways in order to treat pinched nerves.

Cervical Radiculopathy Nonsurgical Treatment

Pre-treatment for cervical radiculopathy is always nonsurgical which includes:

  • Soft Cervical Collar – This is a medical device that wraps around the neck. Doctors advise patients to wear a soft cervical collar to allow the muscles to limit neck movement. This can help decrease the pinching of the nerve roots that accompany the movement of the neck. Patient should only wear the soft collar for a short period of time since long-term wear may decrease the strength of the muscles in your neck.
  • Physical Therapy – Distinct exercises can help relieve pain, strengthen neck muscles, and improve motion.
  • Medications – In some cases, medications can help improve your symptoms.
  • Oral Corticosteroids – Short-term use of oral corticosteroids may help relieve pain by reducing swelling and inflammation around the nerve.
  • Steroid Injection – Injecting steroids near the affected nerve will reduce inflammation. Steroid injections do not necessarily relieve the pressure on the nerve caused by a narrow foramen or by a bulging or herniated disk, but they may lessen the swelling and relieve the pain long enough to allow the nerve to recover.
  • Narcotics – Narcotics are restricted for patients who experience severe pain that is not relieved by other options. Narcotics are only prescribed for a limited time only.

Cervical Radiculopathy Surgical Treatment

If after a period of time nonsurgical treatment does not ease the symptoms, your pain management doctor may recommend surgery. There are several surgical procedures to treat cervical radiculopathy. The procedure your doctor recommends will depend on many factors, including what symptoms you are experiencing and the location of the involved nerve root.