Cervical radiculopathy is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve. Symptoms can include pain, numbness, or tingling in the neck, shoulder, along the arm, or in the hand. Symptoms may be constant or happen with certain activities or movements of your head or arm.
Symptoms may be described as a severe sharp pain, a dull and aching pain, a “tight” sensation, numbness, tingling, or burning.
There are many variables and conditions that can cause a pinched nerve. The spinal nerve can become pinched due to wear and tear of the neck joint, commonly referred to as degeneration or spondylosis. If the neck joint has excessive wear and tear, the openings in the joints may narrow (stenosis). The narrowing can pinch the nerve, causing it to become swollen and inflamed, leading to pain.
To receive a diagnosis, a qualified musculoskeletal expert will first take a medical history and conduct an examination of the patient’s neck. X-ray or MRI scanning may be required.
Most patients with a pinched nerve will get better over time and do not need surgery. Some patients will have pain go away quickly while for others it could take longer. There are both non-surgical and surgical treatments available.
Non-surgical treatment could include physical therapy to strengthen the neck. Some patients may wear a soft collar to limit neck movement. Medications may be used including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. If over the counter anti-inflammatories are not adequate, oral corticosteroids or epidural injections may be used to reduce swelling and pain and aid in recovery.
Surgery may be an option if non-surgical treatments are not successful. The goal of surgery is to create more space in the neck joint and reduce the pinching on the nerve, often referred to as “decompressing” the nerve. The type of surgery chosen typically depends on the structures causing the pinching (a disc or bone spur, a narrow hole, or a worn joint that has collapsed). Common surgeries include: decompression, discectomy (removal of the disc), laminectomy (removal of a part of the bone), foraminotomy, and fusion. Surgical options will be discussed during a consultation with a physician.
Surgery will require recovery and rehabilitation. Recovery time depends on the individual patient as well as several other factors, including the type of procedure performed. The prognosis for surgery is good and the majority of people will return to normal activity after surgery. Healing may take longer for some patients. Range of motion exercises can be recommended depending on healing time. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to help restore flexibility, strength, and function.