What Is Cervical Radiculopathy?
Cervical radiculopathy is a medical condition in which a nerve root near the cervical vertebrae gets compressed and it either damages the nerve or changes the way in which the nerve usually works. The condition is commonly known as a pinched nerve.
In total, there are 7 vertebrae that form a person’s cervical spine. These 7 vertebrae are the place where cervical radiculopathy occurs. In this condition, those nerves get damaged that run between your cervical spine and relay messages from your brain to muscles and vice versa. If the root of these nerves is damaged or pressure is put on them, you feel extreme pain or loss of sensation in your arms and hands.
Cervical Radiculopathy Causes
Nerve root damage can occur because of pressure, degeneration, and a number of other reasons. Here is a list of the most common cervical radiculopathy causes:
- Changes that cause degeneration: Age is the biggest reason why degeneration occurs in the body. Apart from that, some medical conditions can also cause abnormal degenerative changes in the discs. These changes put pressure on nerve roots, narrow the opening in people’s vertebrae, and cause cervical foraminal stenosis.
- Injury: Degenerative changes are the common cause of cervical radiculopathy in middle-aged people, but in younger people, a trauma, a ruptured disc, or any other type of injury is the most common reason for cervical radiculopathy. When you over-stretch your body or lift a heavy object, your disk might herniate. This herniation can inflame the nerve roots and cause cervical radiculopathy.
Some lesser common causes of cervical radiculopathy are:
- A tumor developed in the spine
- A non-cancerous or benign growth of cells in the neck region
- The growth of inflammatory cells (a condition called Sarcoidosis)
- Any type of infection in the spine
Risk Factors For Cervical Radiculopathy
There are certain factors that increase your chances of developing pinched nerve. These risk factors are:
- If you regularly smoke cigarettes
- If you lift heavy objects in the gym or you are in an occupation where you have to lift heavy items
- If you dive into a pool from heights
- If you had radiculopathy in the past
- If you are white
- If you regularly use any big equipment that vibrates
- If you play golf frequently
It should be mentioned here that your risk of developing cervical radiculopathy increases while playing sports like golf only if your neck region experiences sudden jerks.
Cervical Radiculopathy Symptoms
The diagnosis of the condition is relatively easy since there are only a few symptoms. The one major symptom of the condition is a pain that spreads to your neck, chest, arm, shoulder, and even your back. In most cases, the pain just affects one side of the body.
Apart from the pain, a few other common cervical radiculopathy symptoms are:
- Sensory problems like tingling in fingers or hand or numbness in hands
- Motor issues like weakness in muscles, a lack of coordination between your brain and muscles, slow reflexes in legs and arms
Cervical Radiculopathy Test & Diagnosis
In most cases, cervical radiculopathy diagnosis starts with the doctor asking you questions about your symptoms and checking your medical history. Then, the doctor will do a physical exam.
The physical examination includes checking your hands, arms, shoulder, and neck for detecting weakness and issues related to reflexes or sensation. You might also be asked to move your neck and arm in all directions. This is done to see if certain body movements are triggering or easing pain.
Cervical radiculopathy diagnosis includes some other tests such as:
- MRI to see if there is any damage to internal soft issues or your nerve roots
- X-rays to detect if vertebral openings are narrowed because of some reason or if there is any injury in the disk
- CT Scans to get an even better picture of your cervical spine
- A cervical radiculopathy test called electromyography to do a detailed check of your muscles are working and when they are being contracted or at rest
Cervical Radiculopathy Treatments
For a large number of people, the condition gets better with time without any medical intervention. However, it is not a must that your symptom will get better sometimes both surgical and nonsurgical options are needed to treat the condition. Here is how doctors treat cervical radiculopathy:
Non-Surgical cervical radiculopathy treatments:
At first, doctors try to treat the condition with non-surgical methods such as medications, physical therapy, cervical radiculopathy exercises, or a mixture of these treatment methods.
- Medications: Both oral medications and medications that are injected into your epidermis are given to treat the condition.
- Physical therapy: In this radiculopathy treatment method, your doctor will refer you to a professional physical therapist for gentle cervical traction and mobilization. The physical therapist uses a number of therapies, modalities, and cervical radiculopathy exercises to reduce the pain and treat your condition.
Surgical Cervical Radiculopathy Treatment:
If the doctor thinks that nonsurgical procedures are not sufficient or if he or she has already deployed the nonsurgical methods like home workout and you are not getting desired results, you might be given surgical cervical radiculopathy treatment. With surgery, the pressure existing on the nerve roots is relieved and the motor weakness and pain can be reduced to a large extent.
Cervical Radiculopathy Outlook
If you or someone you love is diagnosed with cervical radiculopathy, you do not have to worry as the condition is treatable. As we mentioned earlier, some people do not even need medical intervention to get the problem treated. However, if you do need cervical radiculopathy, it takes somewhere between 6 weeks to 3 months to treat your condition.
A large number of patients get completely treated with conservative cervical radiculopathy treatment options like physical therapy and chiropractic treatment; they do not even require surgery. People who are treated with surgical procedures generally get satisfactory results without any restrictions of diet or movement in the long term.