Cervical radiculopathy is essentially a pinched nerve in the neck. A herniated disc or bone spur may pinch or compress the nerve root, causing symptoms such as pain, numbness, and weakness in the neck and/or arm. Treatment can improve quality of life and alleviate symptoms from cervical radiculopathy.
Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy can include:
- Pain that radiates from the neck to the head, shoulder, arm, hand, or fingers
- Numbness or loss of sensation
- Muscle weakness
- Weakened reflexes
- Tingling feeling like “pins and needles”
- Increased pain with certain neck movements, such as turning the head or extending the neck
- Reduced coordination
Symptoms typically affect only one side of the body (such as one arm only).
Treatment for cervical radiculopathy usually begins with a conservative approach. Depending on the effectiveness of conservative treatments, the severity of symptoms, and the patient’s unique needs, surgery may be advised.
- Physical Therapy (PT): PT can help to strengthen the neck muscles, relieve pain, improve mobility, and stretch the joints and muscles of the neck to alleviate symptoms of cervical radiculopathy.
- Anti-Inflammatory Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can decrease swelling and pain if the affected nerve root is inflamed.
- Injections: Some patients may benefit from spinal injections (such as steroids) to relieve symptoms. Steroid injections cannot relieve pressure from a herniated disc or bone spur, but they can reduce symptoms and help the nerve to recover.
- Neck Bracing: A padded ring called a cervical collar may be worn wrapped around the neck to limit motion and allow the neck muscles to rest. A cervical collar should only be worn for a short while so as not to weaken the neck muscles.
- Surgery: If nonsurgical treatments are ineffective and symptoms persist, surgery may be performed to treat cervical radiculopathy. Surgical techniques include removal of a bone spur, herniated disc replacement, spinal decompression, or spinal fusion. The chosen technique will depend on your symptoms, the location of the affected nerve root, and your health.
Frequently Asked Questions
A diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy can be confirmed with an evaluation of symptoms, a physical examination, detailed medical history, and diagnostic testing (such as X-ray, CT scan, EMG, and/or MRI).
Cervical radiculopathy may be caused by a herniated disc or degenerative changes to the spine (such as bone spurs).
The most common risk of not treating cervical radiculopathy is that symptoms can become chronic (and may worsen over time). Pain and weakness may lead to slower reflexes and reduce coordination. Since most patients with cervical radiculopathy experience relief through nonsurgical treatment methods, it is recommended that patients try conservative treatments as recommended by their orthopedic surgeon to help manage symptoms and safeguard long-term spinal health.
The outcome for patients with cervical radiculopathy depends on severity of symptoms, overall health, the cause of cervical radiculopathy, and which nerve is affected. Most of the time, patients who go through conservative treatments will experience symptom relief and have a good prognosis. For those with cervical radiculopathy caused by spinal degeneration, there is a greater likelihood of recurrence; these patients may be advised to get regular check-ups to monitor their spinal health.