Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical Radiculopathy

Most people have experienced neck pain at least once in their lives. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), between 10% and 21% of the population report experiencing neck pain in the past year, and this rate gets higher if you’re an office worker.

While mild neck pain is simply a minor annoyance, it can escalate into a debilitating condition that can affect your ability to work and enjoy life. A consultation with an experienced spine specialist in New Jersey is essential in preventing or treating cervical radiculopathy and getting your life back on track.

What Is Cervical Radiculopathy?

One of the main functions of your spine is to protect your spinal cord, which is a thick set of nerves that connects every part of your body to the brain. Nerve roots are the points at which nerves exit from the spinal column and connect to the rest of the body. 

Your spine has eight pairs of nerve roots, and if these become inflamed or irritated, you will feel pain in every part of your body the nerve connects to. For instance, if you have a pinched nerve root at the bottom of your spine, you will feel pain from your buttocks down to your feet.

Cervical radiculopathy is a condition where your cervical spine — your neck — compresses a nerve root, resulting in muscle weakness, decreased range of motion, and severe nerve pains radiating down your arms. It is less common than a related condition, lumbar radiculopathy, but it still affects 85 out of every 100,000 people, according to the NIH.

Cervical radiculopathy can vary dramatically in severity. Some people report mild discomfort and tingling down the arm, while others report sensory disruption and even jaw pain. 

The Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy

Many people mistake a pinched nerve for cervical radiculopathy, but while the two are similar, they are not the same. A pinched nerve tends to be a temporary situation that arrives abruptly and then resolves itself without intervention. Cervical radiculopathy is generally more serious and indicates potential spinal damage. 

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, aging is one of the biggest risk factors for cervical radiculopathy, as many causes are associated with wear and tear on the spine. Other risk factors include extreme sports, physically demanding work, and metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

Common causes of cervical radiculopathy include:

  • Degenerative disc disease: As we age, our spinal discs begin to degrade, which shrinks the space between vertebrae. As the space gets smaller, it’s more likely to press on a nerve root and cause neck pain.
  • Herniated disc: Herniated discs cause the inner gel of the spinal disc to push outward, which may compress or irritate a nearby nerve root.
  • Cervical spinal stenosis: Stenosis refers to a condition where the bones around your spinal canal push inward, narrowing the openings at the back of the vertebrae and leading to nerve root compression. 
  • Traumatic injury: A traumatic neck injury can rupture spinal discs or cause spinal fractures that result in bone spurs. These injuries can then put pressure on your nerve root.
  • Spinal infection: Infections cause inflammation of nearby tissue. If you have a spinal infection, you may also irritate nerve roots in the area, leading to cervical radiculopathy.
  • Spinal tumor: While rare, tumors can put extreme pressure on nerves as they grow, resulting in chronic neck pain.

The Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy

The place you feel nerve pain with cervical radiculopathy can vary depending on where the compression happens — for instance, compression of the nerve root at the C6 vertebra leads to nerve symptoms in the bicep, wrist, thumb, and index finger. 

The symptoms of cervical radiculopathy can also be very similar to symptoms of other conditions, like carpal tunnel syndrome or inflammatory arthritis. That’s why it’s so important to seek professional advice from a spinal specialist if you suffer from chronic nerve pain. 

Common symptoms of cervical radiculopathy include:

  • Tingling or numbness down your arm and into your hand
  • Muscle spasms
  • Radiating pain in your neck, shoulder blade, or arm
  • Muscle weakness
  • Reduced muscle stretch response

Cervical Radiculopathy Treatment Options

As cervical radiculopathy has a range of underlying causes, your spine specialist will start by examining and diagnosing the condition. Most treatment plans start with nonsurgical treatment, including:

  • Medication, including anti-inflammatories and drugs for nerve pain
  • Rest or activity modification to prevent the condition from worsening
  • Physical therapy

While these treatments are usually effective, they may not always succeed. Your specialist may recommend surgical intervention if your symptoms get worse, as continuous untreated nerve damage can result in serious problems.

Orthopedic surgeons have a range of surgeries to address cervical radiculopathy. In many cases, these surgeries also address concerns like herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and spinal stenosis. Once treated, most patients’ nerve pain disappears as well. 

When to See a Spine Specialist

Cervical Radiculopathy Doctor

Most instances of neck pain and pinched nerves are temporary and resolve on their own. If you have continuous neck pain or symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in your arm, shoulder, or neck, visit a spine specialist for an examination.

Whether you need endoscopic spine surgery or nonsurgical treatment for your cervical radiculopathy, we’re ready to help. 

Dr. Grigory Goldberg is an experienced spine surgeon who has treated hundreds of patients with a wide range of spinal concerns. Don’t wait until your pain becomes unbearable; schedule an appointment online today!

Our doctors accept most insurance plans, including workers’ compensation, no-fault, and PIP (personal injury protection), and same-day appointments may be available.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cervical radiculopathy serious?

Cervical radiculopathy is a serious condition that can escalate into permanent nerve damage if left untreated. 

How long does it take to heal from cervical radiculopathy?

Depending on the underlying causes, it can take about six weeks to six months to heal from cervical radiculopathy. 

What is the difference between cervical and lumbar radiculopathy?

The main difference between cervical and lumbar radiculopathy is the location of the nerve root compression. A compressed nerve root in the neck is called cervical radiculopathy, while a compressed nerve in the lower back is lumbar radiculopathy. 

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