Cervical radiculopathy is a painful condition caused due to compression of nerve root originating from the cervical region of spinal cord. It is also referred as pinched nerve in the cervical spine. Damage to the nerve root causes severe radiating pain in arm, forearm, shoulder, and hand. If severe, this condition can also cause weakness, loss of sensation in the shoulder, arm and all along the nerve pathway.
Cervical radiculopathy can develop in anyone, usually in middle aged individuals the cause is degenerative changes in vertebra, arthritis and injury. In young individuals injury and rupture of the disc due to trauma is the main cause.Treatment in majority cases is conservative which consists of physical therapy, pain killer medicine, wearing of traction belt etc. Most cases resolve with this treatment and may not need surgery.
Common Causes Of Cervical Radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy occurs when there is damage to the cervical nerve roots. Damage is caused due to compression on nerve root. There are seven cervical vertebras placed one upon other in the neck. The cervical region of the spinal cord passes from this vertebra. Any damage to the spinal vertebra or the spinal disc can cause compression on the nerve root that originates from the spinal cord.The cervical vertebras are located in the neck region. The common causes are:
- Herniation of cervical disc: Bulging of the disc can put pressure on the nerve root. Bulging can develop due to degeneration process or due to trauma. Disc herniation often occurs while lifting heavy object or pulling something heavy etc.
- Degeneration of disc: Degeneration of disc is a common problem in people over the age of 50. When the cervical spine disc degenerates it becomes flat and stiffer. As a result there is little gap between two spinal vertebra. The nerve root taking off from the spinal cord in this area will get compressed due to reduced gap between two cervical spine vertebra.
- Cervical spinal stenosis: A reduced space in spinal canal of the cervical region can compress the nerve roots.
Athletes, laborers, people constantly using vibrating machines, aged individuals are at greater risk of suffering from cervical radiculopathy. People sitting for long time in front of computer or with a poor sitting posture are also at risk.
Symptoms Of Cervical Radiculopathy
The major part of cervical nerve roots innervate in the arm, shoulder, neck, hands, fingers and upper back area. Thus any damage to the nerve root can cause its rippling effect on the areas of innervation. The main symptoms of cervical radiculopathy are pain, weakness and loss of sensation in the affected area.
The pain is often radiating in nature. It may be located in one particular area of arm and hand or may affect the entire arm till the fingers. Pain may be of different types such as dull and aching or may be severe burning. Some patients may complain of feeling of pins and needles along the hands.
If the condition is severe, it may result in weakness in the hands. Patient experiences difficulty in holding objects. Daily tasks such as writing, typing, or dressing up may become difficult.
How To Treat Cervical Radiculopathy At Home?
Most cases of cervical radiculopathy are treated conservatively at home. A combination of physiotherapy as well as medications is found to be effective in dealing with the symptoms of this condition. Pain medicines for few days will help to relieve the patient from acute pain. Along with it after few days of initial treatment, the doctor recommends physical therapy which includes cervical traction with the help of cervical collar and certain other form of exercises.
In case of osteoporosis of the bones patient is also recommended to take calcium supplements and dairy products that are high in calcium content.
Postural education is also important part of treatment. Patient is taught good posture habits. He is taught how to bend, lift objects and avoid lifting heavy weights so that minimal pressure is produced on the disc. Surgical intervention is rare and may be needed only if the condition worsens.