What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy, commonly known as a pinched nerve in the neck, is a condition that is caused by compression or irritation of the nerve root. In most cases, the nerve root is compressed by a bone spur or a herniated disc. When a nerve root in the neck is irritated, symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness and/or weakness can radiate into the shoulder, arm and/or hand. As a neck specialist, Dr. Braxton utilizes both conservative and surgical treatment options for patients suffering from pain due to cervical radiculopathy.

What Causes a Pinched Nerve in the Neck?

Cervical nerve roots, classified as C1 through C7, exit the neck above the designated vertebral level at all levels except C7. These cervical nerves extend out to supply muscles that enable function to the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. These nerves also carry sensory fibers to the skin that provide sensation.

A pinched nerve occurs when too much compression is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues. In some cases, this tissue might be bone or cartilage; in other cases muscle or tendons may cause compression. The most common causes of cervical radiculopathy include:

  • Cervical herniated disc
  • Cervical spinal stenosis
  • Cervical degenerative disc disease

What Does a Pinched Nerve in the Neck Feel Like?

A pinched nerve in the neck often creates radiating symptoms to other parts of the upper body. These symptoms include:

  • Numbness in the area supplied by the nerve

  • Sharp, aching or burning pain

  • Paresthesia (pins and needles sensations)

  • Muscle weakness

In certain cases, the exact location of nerve compression in the neck can be identified based on the location of radiating symptoms.

How to Diagnose Cervical Radiculopathy?

Dr. Braxton will collect a thorough patient history and conduct a physical exam. The physical exam may include an assessment of range of motion and strength of the neck. Dr. Braxton will also ask about any worsening symptoms, change in reflexes, or loss of sensation.

Medical imaging such as an MRI, X-rays or CT scan may be required to accurately evaluate internal structure. This imaging will help identify any narrowing of the foramen, nerve opening and evidence of soft tissue degeneration such as a bulging, herniated disc. Dr. Braxton may also conduct a nerve conduction study using an EMG to evaluate nerve impulse both during contraction and rest.

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Can Pinched Nerves Heal on Their Own?

Typically, treatment for a pinched nerve begins with conservative treatment options. These options include:

  • Medications including anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and short courses of oral corticosteroids which may help reduce swelling and inflammation at the nerve.
  • Physical therapy to improve range of motion, build strength in neck muscles and alleviate pain.
  • A soft cervical collar or padded ring that allows the neck to rest and limits neck motion during healing.
  • Steroid injections near the affected nerve to help reduce pain, inflammation and swelling.

The goal of each treatment is to reduce inflammation and swelling and ultimately decrease nerve root compression.

How are Pinched Nerves Treated?

Advanced treatment for cervical radiculopathy may include surgery. Dr. Braxton works closely with patients to determine if non-surgical treatments have proven inadequate and surgery is recommended. The procedure Dr. Braxton recommends will depend on the exact location of nerve root compression. Dr. Braxton utilizes minimally invasive surgical techniques to help get the patient back to normal activities and a full lifestyle as quickly as possible.

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