When your doctor says your discomfort is due to something called cervical radiculopathy, it is natural for you to ask, “What is cervical radiculopathy?” This is a condition that happens when a nerve in your neck is injured or inflamed. This can result in symptoms such as numbness, weakness and tingling that can be vague, burning or have the power of an electric shock. These symptoms can radiate from your neck, down your shoulders, down your arm ad into your fingers. Sometimes the symptoms are eased when you support your neck, as on a pillow.
The problem with the nerve is often caused by a herniated disc or a bone spur in the vertebra. A herniated disc means that the cartilage that cushions the space between two vertebrae has ruptured, causing it to press on the nerve. A bone spur can also irritate the nerve. Other causes of cervical radiculopathy are infections, tumors or a fractured neck vertebra. Sometimes, one of the cervical vertebrae slides out of place, which can also irritate the nerve. In other cases, doctors aren’t sure why the nerve is inflamed.
You have 8 pairs of nerves in your cervical spine, C1 to C8.
Who Gets Cervical Radiculopathy?
Cervical radiculopathy is uncommon. It is far less common than nerve damage that causes pain in the lower back. It is more common in men and more common in older people. Like pain in the lower back, cervical radiculopathy can come and go, and sometimes it resolves without any treatment.
What is Cervical Radiculopathy? Other Symptoms
Besides the symptoms discussed, your reflexes can be affected by cervical radiculopathy. You might not respond as quickly as you would when your skin comes into contact with a hot stove or a piece of ice. Your arm may not respond as it should when the doctor taps your elbow with a rubber hammer. The symptoms also vary depending on which of the cervical nerves is involved. For example, you may feel symptoms from your thumb to just past your elbow if the C6 nerve is impinged.
Diagnosing Cervical Radiculopathy
Doctors diagnose cervical radiculopathy in a variety of ways. They first listen to your symptoms and examine you. They’ll also conduct what’s called the Spurling’s test. In this simple test, you lean your head to the side where you’re having symptoms, and the doctor presses down on top of your head. This causes the nerve to be even more compressed, and you’ll feel symptoms. However, the doctor won’t do this test if they believe you have a vertebral fracture.
Treating Cervical Radiculopathy
There are many ways to successfully treat cervical radiculopathy. Some cases respond very well to rest. Other cases are helped by physical therapy, including massage, ice packs or warm compresses, pain medications or corticosteroid injections. Other patients wear cervical traction devices that open up the spaces in their cervical spine to take pressure off of the nerves. Surgery is a treatment of last resort if these other treatments don’t work.
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