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Cervical Radiculopathy: A Pinched Nerve in the Neck
The more common name for cervical radiculopathy is a pinched nerve in the neck. Something has caused a nerve in the neck to be squeezed or irritated, leading to pain and other symptoms that often start in the neck and radiate down the shoulder or arm. Your spine consists of 24 bones stacked upon each other, with protective discs in between. The seven small bones at the base of the skull forming the neck make up the cervical spine. This is the location where cervical radiculopathy occurs.
What causes cervical radiculopathy?
In younger people, a pinched nerve is usually the result of some type of sudden trauma to the neck such as a fall or car accident. An injury can cause a herniated or bulging disc that presses on a nerve and causes pain or weakness. Herniated discs may also occur from movements like lifting, twisting, or bending. In older people, a pinched nerve can simply be part of the aging process. Degenerative changes occur in the spine as we age, causing the discs to lose height, lose water, bulge, and stiffen. These changes are normal with aging and pinched nerves are very common, although some people do not experience any symptoms and are unaware of the issue.
What does cervical radiculopathy feel like?
Spine surgeon Dr. Fischer frequently see patients who have symptoms of cervical radiculopathy. Pain, often described as sharp or burning, usually begins at the neck and goes down the arm. Moving the neck tends to increase the pain. Other symptoms are muscle weakness in the arm, shoulder or hand, tingling in the hand or fingers, and loss of sensation in the affected areas.
How is it diagnosed?
If you are experiencing these symptoms, schedule an appointment with Dr. Fischer for a physical examination and medical history. You may be asked to perform movements that either exacerbate or relieve your symptoms. Tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, or EMG to measure muscle electrical impulses or nerve conditions may be recommended to give you the most accurate diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy.
How is it treated?
Most patients with this condition improve over time and do not require any type of treatment other than over-the-counter pain relievers. Pain may dissipate in a matter of days or weeks, or it can linger for a more extended period. If your symptoms continue, Dr. Fischer might recommend taking prescription medication, getting physical therapy, wearing a soft cervical collar, or getting steroid injections. In the most serious cases, Dr. Fischer may advise surgery as a last resort for cervical radiculopathy.