What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy is a medical condition characterized by pain and/or neurological symptoms following a condition that irritates or compresses a nerve in the cervical spine (neck).

Also known as “pinched nerve,” cervical radiculopathy is often caused by “wear and tear” changes in the spine. This is often the case for older people. For younger people, cervical radiculopathy is often sustained from a sudden injury that results in a herniated disk. When the herniated disk bulges out towards the spinal canal, it can put pressure on the nerve root, resulting in pain and weakness in the areas supplied by the affected nerve.

Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy

Pain is the most common symptom of cervical radiculopathy. It spreads into the neck, arm, shoulders, chest, and/or upper back.

People suffering from pinched nerve experience different types of pain. Some describe their pain as dull, general pain while there are those who describe their pain as severe, burning, or sharp.

Aside from pain, cervical radiculopathy may also cause a tingling sensation, accompanied by muscle weakness and/or numbness in the fingers or hands. When there is muscle weakness and/or numbness in the fingers or hands, one may experience difficulty in gripping or lifting objects as well as doing day-to-day tasks such as eating or getting dressed.

Diagnosing Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy is only diagnosed after discussing with the patient’s medical history and after a thorough physical examination. During the physical exam, the doctor performs tests to determine muscle weakness, loss of sensation, or change of reflexes on the neck, shoulder, arms, and hands.

Additional tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis. These include X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and/or electromyography.

How It Is Treated

In many cases, patients with cervical radiculopathy get better without any form of treatment. Some have pain that goes away quickly while it takes longer for some.

Patients who do not experience any relief in symptoms require further evaluation and treatment.

There are non-surgical and surgical methods of managing cervical radiculopathy. Initially, the patient will be recommended for a more conservative nonsurgical treatment method such as the use of a soft cervical collar, physical therapy, steroid injections, and/or medications (e.g. NSAIDs, narcotics).

If there is no relief from symptoms after a period of time of using nonsurgical treatment, the patient will be recommended for surgery. The three main surgical options for pinched nerve are anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion (ACDF), artificial disk replacement (ADR), and posterior cervical laminoforaminotomy.