Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy happens when a nerve in the neck is pinched or bruised by a slipped (herniated) disk or by arthritic changes in the bones of the cervical spine. This can occur due to an injury or as part of the normal aging process. Pressure on the cervical nerves can cause pain or numbness that runs from your neck all the way down into your arm and fingers.

CAUSES

There are many possible causes, including:

  • Injury.

  • Muscle tightness in the neck from overuse.

  • Swollen, painful joints (arthritis).

  • Breakdown or degeneration in the bones and joints of the spine (spondylosis) due to aging.

  • Bone spurs that may develop near the cervical nerves.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms include pain, weakness, or numbness in the affected arm and hand. Pain can be severe or irritating. Symptoms may be worse when extending or turning the neck.

DIAGNOSIS

Your caregiver will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. He or she may test your strength and reflexes. X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans may be needed in cases of injury or if the symptoms do not go away after a period of time. Electromyography (EMG) or nerve conduction testing may be done to study how your nerves and muscles are working.

TREATMENT

Your caregiver may recommend certain exercises to help relieve your symptoms. Cervical radiculopathy can, and often does, get better with time and treatment. If your problems continue, treatment options may include:

  • Wearing a soft collar for short periods of time.

  • Physical therapy to strengthen the neck muscles.

  • Medicines, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral corticosteroids, or spinal injections.

  • Surgery. Different types of surgery may be done depending on the cause of your problems.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Put ice on the affected area.

  • Put ice in a plastic bag.

  • Place a towel between your skin and the bag.

  • Leave the ice on for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day or as directed by your caregiver.

  • If ice does not help, you can try using heat. Take a warm shower or bath, or use a hot water bottle as directed by your caregiver.

  • You may try a gentle neck and shoulder massage.

  • Use a flat pillow when you sleep.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver.

  • If physical therapy was prescribed, follow your caregiver's directions.

  • If a soft collar was prescribed, use it as directed.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your pain gets much worse and cannot be controlled with medicines.

  • You have weakness or numbness in your hand, arm, face, or leg.

  • You have a high fever or a stiff, rigid neck.

  • You lose bowel or bladder control (incontinence).

  • You have trouble with walking, balance, or speaking.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.