What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy is commonly referred to as a “pinched nerve.” A pinched nerve occurs when a spinal nerve root in the cervical spine becomes compressed or irritated. These nerves travel from the spinal cord into the neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. When these nerves are pinched or compressed, it can cause pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling in these areas. The nature of the symptoms depends upon which nerve roots are affected.

Causes

Cervical radiculopathy is commonly associated with disc problems, such as a herniated disc that puts pressure on a nerve root. It can also be caused by injuries or degenerative changes in the spine due to arthritis or aging. These degenerative changes can put pressure on nerve roots in the neck. Bone spurs—a common development of aging—can also contribute to pinched nerve roots by pressing on and irritating nerves in the cervical spine.

People who smoke or do heavy lifting are at higher risk for cervical radiculopathy. Older people are also at risk because they frequently have degenerative changes that can lead to nerve compression.

Symptoms

The symptoms of cervical radiculopathy vary depending upon which cervical nerve roots are involved. Common symptoms are pain in the neck, arm, shoulder, or arm. Typically, pain starts in the neck and radiates into the shoulders and arms. The pain may be worsened by certain movements of the neck. Some people also experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm, hand, or fingers. It is not uncommon for someone with cervical radiculopathy to report headaches involving the back of the head.

Diagnosis

A good clinical exam and X-rays of the cervical spine may suggest the diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy. In most cases, other imaging studies such as an MRI or CT scan will be needed to better visualize the spinal cord. Nerve conduction studies or electromyography (EMG) may be used in some cases to measure how quickly nerve signals are being conducted and to rule out other problems that can mimic cervical radiculopathy. However, EMG is considered a supporting test, not a diagnostic one.

Treatment

Most people with cervical radiculopathy improve with anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, and physical therapy. In more severe cases, oral steroids may be needed to further reduce pain and inflammation. If symptoms don’t improve, a nerve root block can be used to treat the pain. This involves injecting a steroid and numbing medication into the area of the nerve where it exits the spinal cord. Another option may be an epidural steroid injection, which involves a steroid being injected into the area around the spinal cord. If all of these treatments fail, surgery may be required to relieve the pressure from the affected nerves.

Tom Wascher M.D. will review your imaging studies free of charge or, if needed, provide you with a second opinion. He has performed over 1,800 cervical surgeries during his career and wants to see that you receive the best treatment possible. He is a competent and caring surgeon who has your best interests in mind.