Radiculopathy, also known as Cervical Radiculopathy or “Pinched Nerve” – is the irritation and inflammation of a damaged nerve root near the cervical vertebrae. As the name suggests, this spinal condition is usually located in the cervical spine that encompasses the neck and upper back area. A nerve root is significant as it sends signals into the brain to invoke sensations within a person. However, when a nerve root is damaged in the cervical vertebrae, it causes pain and irregular sensations in various areas of the upper extremities (arms, elbows, wrists, hands, etc.).
Causes of Radiculopathy
Disc Herniation: The most common cause of Radiculopathy is a herniated disc in the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine. This condition involves the disc protruding and pushing against the nerve roots, which causes a nerve to be damaged.
Degenerative disc disease: Radiculopathy can also be caused by any degenerative spinal change that places considerable amount of pressure upon the nerves.
Diabetes: This condition diminishes the blood flow to all areas of the body, including the spinal nerves. The lack of blood flow will elevate the probabilities of damaging a nerve root along with irritation and inflammation.
Spinal Malformations: Spinal Stenosis is defined as a narrowing within the spinal canal, which elevates the chances of pressure onto the nerve roots. This pressure can eventually cause a pinched nerve in the cervical spine area. Another malformation that can cause Radiculopathy is Scoliosis, which causes the nerves to be compressed due to abnormal curvature of the spine.
Trauma: Traumatic injuries are also capable of causing Radiculopathy – injuries that produce a fractured spine or cervical sprains are known to directly cause irritation to the spinal nerves.
- Neck and Shoulder pain
- Radiating sharp pain toward the upper extremities
- Associated muscle weakness , tingling and numbness in fingers or hands
- Limited range of motion and stiffness
Treatment Options for Radiculopathy
Treatment for Radiculopathy generally includes minimally invasive and non-surgical procedures. Spinal physicians and orthopedics initially recommend medications as the pivotal treatment to control pain, headaches, inflammation, muscle spasms and other accompanying symptoms. This can include Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and pain medications.
Physical Therapy may also be recommended to relieve pressure and irritation on the spinal nerve roots. This treatment utilizes exercise, stretching and conditioning to improve strength and mobility of your neck and back area, and overall reduce pain and inflammation.
Another highly recommended treatment option involves bracing or immobilization. Immobilization will decrease pain and provide support to the spine. A particular brace, known as a Cervical Collar, will be utilized to maintain the spinal cord’s alignment while the individual is healing. This type of bracing will limit motion, but this is imperative for individuals to accelerate their healing process.
Epidural Steroid Injections is another minimally invasive option that is utilized treat Radiculopathy. Also known as a nerve block, Epidural Steroid Injections are only administered a few times per year (usually given in 3 sets). This treatment is provided to reduce pain, irritation and inflammation from the spinal nerve roots. It can also relieve pressure amongst the cervical spine area.
If conservative all treatment is exhausted and fails to improve patients’ symptoms, then surgical intervention will be considered. The type of surgery varies accordingly depending on the location of damaged nerve and the severity. Surgery is necessary to remove bone spurs, replace discs and relieve disabling pain. It can also be suggested if there is evidence of a spinal cord compression.