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Pinched Nerve in the Neck

By Dr. Edwin Chun

cervicalspineHow many times have you heard someone say they got a pinched nerve in their neck? If you are like me you have heard this said before many times and may have wondered what they were talking about. Well let's look at what the term pinched nerve means exactly. The correct term for pinched nerve in the neck is cervical radiculopathy.

Don't let the big words scare you, lets break them down into their Latin roots. Cervical means Neck. Radiculopathy means (Radix) = root (pathy) = pathological state or sickness. So you could break the word cervical radiculopathy down into meaning a pathological state or sickness of the neck having to do with the roots of the spinal nerves. Well that's a great descriptor of the condition. People who have cervical radiculopathies have pain in their spinal nerves that travel down their arm or into the upper back. They often describe the pain as a "shooting pain". Lets look at the most common causes of cervical radiculopathy.

  1. Cervical Herniated Disc: This is a condition where the inner contents of the spinal disc rupture out of the disc and impinge on the spinal nerve sending pain signals throughout the nerve. A lot of injuries that result from impact such as car accidents or contact sports can result in herniated disc. Herniated disc is the most common cause of a pinched nerve (cervical radiculopathy) in young people aged 20-30 years of age.
  2. Cervical Spinal Stenosis: This is the most common cause of cervical radiculopathy in older patients over 65. Stenosis occurs as the natural degeneration or aging process in the spine results in decreased space for the spinal cord commonly due to arthritic bone growth.
  3. Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease: This is the most common cause of cervical radiculopathy in patients over 50. Sometimes when a person has degenerated spinal discs due to ageing, wear and tear, arthritis or long standing inflammation the decreased height of their discs can cause increased pressure on surrounding spinal nerves due to faulty biomechanics.

What are the symptoms of Cervical radiculopathy?

The symptoms are different depending on what spinal nerve is being affected. Patients usually report pain near and around the shoulder, sometimes the pain is dull but most often the pain is sharp, knife like shooting pain. There can be weakness and numbess associated with the pain and it can affect the entire arm down to the finger tips. It usually does affect activities of daily living involving grasping, overhead lifting, driving and turning of the head.

What are the treatments for Cervical radiculopathy?

There are many ways to treat cervical radiculopathy which normally start with nonsurgical approaches such as physical therapy and or chiropractic. In addition to treatment, it is also a good idea to try to modify a patient's activities so they do not increase the pain to the injury. Figuring out better biomechanics will help the injury to heal faster by not doing things that will aggravate the condition such as overhead lifting or turning the neck too much. More invasive treatments can include medical care in the form of medicines to reduce pain and or inflammation, as well as procedures such as injections into and around the spine where the problem is. If all else fails there is a possibility that surgery can help depending on the cause of the particular condition.

If you or a loved one is experiencing this problem contact our office to see if we can help.

Categories: Healthways Blog

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