Often referred to as a “pinched nerve,” cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve root is irritated or compressed at its point of exit from the spinal canal. The nerves in the cervical spine enable sensation to the arms and hands, as well as transmit electrical signals that provide motor signals for movement. Nerve compression interferes with the transmission of impulses, causing pain, muscle weakness and/or alterations in sensation in the area that the nerve supplies.
Cervical, thoracic, or lumbar radiculopathies can occur. Radiculopathy refers to a problem affecting the nerve roots and is distinguished from myelopathy, which denotes a problem with the spinal cord.
Symptoms generally radiate from the neck and may affect the shoulders, arms, or hands. Depending on the severity of nerve compression and its location, function may become impaired. Examples may include difficulty raising the arm over the head or lifting/carrying heavier loads. Cervical radiculopathy can have a sudden onset or develop slowly over time. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Muscle weakness
- Occipital headaches (pain just above the back of the neck)
A herniated disc can exert pressure on a nerve root. There is also evidence to suggest that fluid released from a ruptured disc can cause irritation to the nerve.
Degenerative disc disease often leads to the development of bone spurs inside the foramen – openings in the vertebrae where nerve roots leave the spine and branch outward from the spinal cord. In general, cervical radiculopathy tends to occur in adults.
Cervical Radiculopathy Treatment
Dr. Stieber begins with a thorough history and neurologic examination. Depending on these findings, X-rays, CT scan, MRI, or nerve conduction studies may be ordered.
Many patients obtain relief from medications, nerve blocks, and/or physical therapy. A cervical collar can be used to provide temporary support and limit neck motion.
For a subset of patients, cervical radiculopathy may not improve with non-surgical care. Intractable pain and increasing weakness or numbness are signs that the underlying condition (e.g., herniated disc) may be worsening. For these patients, Dr. Stieber is able to offer highly effective, minimally disruptive surgical cervical radiculopathy treatment options. Many of these options can be performed as an outpatient or with a single overnight hospital stay.
If you believe that you may be suffering from a pinched nerve or cervical radiculopathy, please reach out to us and make an appointment! We’d love nothing more than to get you back to pain-free living!