Neck pain due to a pinched nerve (cervical radiculopathy) is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions that Dr. Nathen Horst sees in his daily practice. Research has shown that cervical radiculopathy is more common in middle-aged or older adults, likely due to spinal disc degeneration in the cervical (neck) region. In younger patients, it may be due to an injury in which a significant load placed upon the neck can lead to pinched nerves. A good example of this can be found among military personnel (particularly women) who must wear backpacks and other assorted gear that can sometimes weigh up to 100 pounds. Smoking and operating heavy vibrating equipment, such as a jackhammer, can increase the risk of cervical radiculopathy.
What Causes Cervical Radiculopathy?
The cervical region of the spine comprises the first seven vertebrae leading out of the base of the skull (designated as C1 to C7). These cervical vertebrae are among the most delicate and lightest of all the spinal vertebrae, but have the very important jobs of holding up the head, protecting the spinal cord as it comes out of the base of the skull, and allowing both the head and neck to turn.
Cervical radiculopathy occurs when the discs between the vertebrae degenerate (due to either age or injury), shift out of proper alignment, and start to pinch or place pressure upon the nerve roots leading out from the cervical spine. Because the C6 and C7 vertebrae have a narrow space for the spinal cord, they are prone to cervical radiculopathy.
Signs of Cervical Radiculopathy
Patients will usually have neck and/or arm pain that can range from a dull ache to burning pain. There can also be sensations of numbness or tingling. In many cases, patients may not complain specifically of neck pain, but shoulder pain on one side or the other. To check for the presence of cervical radiculopathy, you can hold the arms out to the side, parallel to the floor, bend the upper arm and place the hand behind the head. This may also help relieve the pain.
Initial treatment will generally involve relieving pain. Treatment may include rest, icing the affected shoulder, pain relievers, massage, stretching, and physical therapy to restore flexibility and range of motion. A cervical collar will help immobilize the neck. In severe cases, surgery to fuse the cervical vertebrae (thereby giving them more stability) may be needed.
In addition to some of the non-invasive treatment options listed above, Dr. Horst may also use chiropractic adjustments to treat cervical radiculopathy. He will use either his hands or a special instrument to put the spinal vertebrae back into proper alignment. This will relieve the pressure on the nerve roots that are causing the pain. There are a number of research articles that show how cervical spinal adjustments can treat neck pain.
Cervical radiculopathy is, quite literally, a big pain in the neck. Fortunately, Dr. Horst can help relieve that pain with a treatment that is safe and effective.