Cervical radiculopathy is damage to nerve function due to the compression or irritation of a nerve root near the spine. This damage can cause neck pain, back pain, and pain or loss of feeling in the upper body and the extremities. The condition has an incidence of 83.2 per 100,000.
Nerve compression can occur for many reasons. Cervical disc herniation or rupture caused by trauma or long-term wear and tear can impinge on the nerve. Nerve compression can also result from the normal degeneration of the discs due to aging. Cervical spinal stenosis, the tightening of the spinal canal, occurs as the spine degenerates over time. Rarely, tumors, fractures, or sarcoidosis may cause cervical radiculopathy.
Chronic pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, chest, and/or arms is the main symptom of cervical radiculopathy. This pain may be dull and achy or burning and sharp. Some patients report numbness and tingling in the fingers and hands. Others report muscle weakness and lack of coordination.
The exact symptoms depend on the location of the nerve root irritation and may worsen when the patient rotates or moves his or her neck. Compression and inflammation can occur at any of the nerves corresponding to vertebrae C1 to C8. The most common is C7 radiculopathy, which causes pain to radiate through the entire arm. C6 radiculopathy is also quite common and presents similar symptoms to C7 radiculopathy. Less common is C8 damage, which causes neck pain as well as numbness and weakness in the hands.
Our doctor will consider the location of the injury and the severity of the chronic pain when designing a treatment regimen. Pain doctors often prescribe corticosteroids and non-steroidal medication, like ibuprofen, to manage pain. Debilitating pain may require more powerful narcotics to ameliorate the symptoms. Some patients receive steroid epidurals to target the specific area of concern.
Medication is often used in conjunction with physical therapy to manage discomfort and strengthen the patient’s body. Cervical epidural steroid injections may also be performed to help treat the inflammation surround the nerves. In severe cases of nerve compression, especially those causing motor weakness, a pain management doctor may suggest surgery to release pressure on the nerve, often by addressing the cervical disc herniation, cervical spinal stenosis, or other injury at the root of the irritation.