In layman’s terms, cervical radiculopathy is known as a “pinched nerve” located in the area of the cervical vertebrae (the part of your spine around your neck). It involves damage to a nerve or the disturbance of nerve function, which can lead to pain and disability.
The nerve roots exiting the neck are responsible for carrying signals between the brain and the upper body, including the neck, arms, chest, upper back and shoulders. When one of the cervical nerve roots becomes compressed, it has trouble transmitting those signals. The resulting symptoms include muscle weakness, pain, tingling (pins and needles) or numbness, particularly in the arms and hands. Many experience sharp pain that travels down the arm while others have general symptoms like lack of coordination, particularly in your hands. Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy may worsen with extending or turning the head.
Cervical radiculopathy can have a variety of causes, including scenarios where the nerve roots get inflamed and irritated with pressure. As we age, the discs of our spine that cushion the vertebrae naturally degenerate and lose fluid thereby reducing the size of the holes though which the nerves exit the spine. The vertebrae themselves can sometimes become compressed due to bone loss causing the body to create bone spurs to try to shore up the vertebrae. Either way there is an inflammatory response along the nerve sheath causing the symptoms described above. In younger people, cervical radiculopathy is more commonly caused by an injury or acute trauma that causes a ruptured disc. The disc material then puts pressure on the nerves, causing pain.
For most people, cervical radiculopathy disappears in time, with mild treatment or no treatment at all. For some people, however, it can become a chronic condition. Common treatments include pain medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen. Some people are also treated with steroid injections in the cervical area. However, it’s important to understand that these approaches are intended primarily to reduce inflammation and pain. This means that relief is usually temporary and that the symptoms are likely to return.
Of all the treatments available, chiropractic care is among the best therapy for cervical radiculopathy, since it is effective as well as non-invasive and drug-free. Your chiropractor can perform an adjustment to restore joint mobility thereby alleviating stress off the nerve roots. Restoring function and range of motion with chiropractic adjustments can help eliminate pain and discomfort. In some cases, physical therapy can also help by stretching and strengthening the neck muscles. Only in more severe cases is surgery necessary to take pressure off the nerve roots.