Cervical Radiculopathy – or pinched nerve – occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed – or pinched – where it branches away from the spinal cord. This causes pain in the neck that radiates toward the shoulder, as well as muscle weakness and numbness through the arms and hands.
A pinched nerve is common in older people and often caused by the general “wear-and-tear” changes that occur in the spine as we age. In younger people, a pinched nerve is usually caused by a sudden injury resulting in a herniated disc.
In most cases, the pain of a pinched nerve starts at the neck and travels down the shoulder, arm, and hand served by the damaged nerve. The pain is typically described as being a sharp or burning pain. Extending or over-stretching the neck can increase the pain. Patients can also present with a tingling or “pins-and-needles” feeling in the fingers and hand, weakness in the muscles and/or loss of sensation. Some patients see a decrease in pain when they place their hands upon their head. This is because this movement may temporarily relieve the pressure on the affected nerve root.
For the majority of patients, cervical radiculopathy gets better over time and does not require professional help; however, in some patients, the pinched nerve does not get better or is consistently occurring. These patients are usually treated non-surgically with a soft cervical collar, physical therapy, and medication. A soft collar should only be worn for a short amount of time, as prolonged wear can lead to a decrease in the strength of the muscles.