Cervical Radiculopathy commonly known as a “pinched nerve” refers to the neurological dysfunction that occurs when a nerve in the neck is irritated as it branches away from the spinal cord. It most often occurs as a result of changes in the cervical spine with age related issues such as arthritis, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, as well as from an injury that causes a herniated or bulging disc. On some occasions cervical nerve impingement can occur as a result of a tumor, infection, or other illness.
The nerves that branch off the spinal cord and exit the cervical spine supply the muscles of the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. As they travel from the neck to the fingertips these nerves transmit brain signals that enable muscle movement as well as provide sensory pathways to the skin enabling feeling. When a nerve root in the cervical spine is irritated by compression or inflammation, everywhere that particular nerve travels will be affected. Even though the pinched nerve is in the neck there can be pain, muscle weakness, and loss of sensation anywhere along the damaged nerve from the neck to the hand. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.
A diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy begins with a complete history and physical examination. The doctor evaluates the neck, shoulder, arm and hands to check for weakness, loss of sensation, or a change in reflexes. Additional tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis, to rule out other possible disorders, to help determine the source of the problem, as well as to assess muscle and nerve activity.
The initial treatment for cervical radiculopathy is conservative. Non- surgical medical management can include medication, physical therapy, and/or pain blocking injections. If pain and impairment persist or worsen, the doctor may recommend surgery. The goal of surgery is to alleviate the impingement of the affected nerve.