Cervical radiculopathy is the medical term for a pinched nerve in the neck. While either degenerative changes or trauma usually causes it, many people don’t notice the symptoms until they wake up in the morning and experience pain, tingling, and numbness in their shoulders, arms, and hands.
Cervical radiculopathy can be treated with proper chiropractic care, targeted exercises and stretches, and other non-invasive treatments. Surgical options for narrowed disc spaces, especially in the spine, can be extremely risky. While cervical radiculopathy can return over the years, non-invasive treatment options can help you keep these symptoms at bay.
Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a bulging or herniated disc begins to compress on the nerves that run through the foramen openings of the spine. This can happen due to degenerative changes over time, including health issues such as degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, and spinal stenosis. This is usually due to aging, but patients with a family history of these conditions are at a higher risk of developing these issues at much younger ages.
Cervical radiculopathy, or a pinched nerve in the neck, can also be caused by trauma or injury. A severe hit to the neck and spine in sports, a slip and fall, or a car accident can all cause a sudden misalignment of the spine which can make a disc herniate.
A bulging disc usually causes much less severe symptoms because the bulging section of the disc is not as big or severe. The symptoms of a bulging disc tend to come on more gradually, as the nerve is being compressed over time.
A herniated disc, on the other hand, is a tear in the disc, allowing the jelly-like substance to protrude in a much larger section, pressing on the nerves that run through the spine with substantial force.
Over time, a misalignment in the spine, or a reduction in the disc space between the vertebrae in the spine, can cause the vertebrae to rub together, causing bone spurs. Eventually, these spurs can also press on the nerves, and the symptoms caused by these spurs are much more challenging to treat.
Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy
Symptoms from the pinching of nerves in the cervical section of the spine often include pain in the neck and shoulders. The pinching of these nerves can also radiate pain down into the arms, hands, and fingers. Many patients may also experience tingling, weakness, numbness, or sharp, electrical-like sensations.
Patients may also experience difficulty raising their arms, turning their heads, or moving their upper body. For those who are familiar with the condition of sciatica, cervical radiculopathy is almost the same thing, only in the upper body instead of in the lower extremities.
Treatment Options for Cervical Radiculopathy
There are a variety of treatment options for patients who suffer from cervical radiculopathy, and 90% of patients see an improvement in their symptoms with non-surgical interventions.
A chiropractor will use gentle spinal manipulation to realign your spine, so your discs and vertebrae are back in their natural state. He or she may also use neck traction exercises to help open the disc space between the vertebrae and relieve pressure on the affected nerves. Neck traction exercises can also be done at home with specialized equipment, which is relatively inexpensive to purchase.
Targeted exercises and stretches can help to strengthen the muscles around the neck to keep the neck in alignment after a chiropractic adjustment. Your chiropractor will likely provide you with these stretches and exercises to do on your own, and many of them are also herniated disc exercises you would use in physical therapy. When the muscles are strong enough to hold the neck in alignment, the disc will no longer press against the nerves.
Having a strong and aligned neck is also important for the health of the rest of your spine and your organs. Your body performs at its optimal levels when the nerves can communicate, and blood can flow properly throughout your spine and spinal cord.
Finally, massage therapy is another excellent option for treating a pinched nerve in the neck. A trained massage therapist can put your muscles back into place and stimulate blood flow to the injured area, which repairs damaged muscle tissue and nerves. Increased blood flow will reduce swelling and inflammation and promote faster healing.