Pain Conditions Treated

Cervical radiculopathy

At Bay State Pain Management, Our Expert Pain Management Doctors & Medical Staff Provide Effective Treatments for a Wide Range of Conditions, Including Cervical Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve), Spine Pain, Chronic Pain, Central Pain Syndromes, and Much More in West Bridgewater MA

Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve root coming off the spinal cord becomes compressed. The compression can occur for various reasons. The cervical spine consists of 7 cervical vertebrae. Each vertebra is separated by a gel-like disc which provides shock absorption for the spine.

The spinal cord travels through a canal in the cervical vertebrae. Spinal nerve roots extend from the spinal cord and branch off going to specific locations in the arm. The spinal nerves send signals to our muscles for movement as well as sensations that we feel in the entire arm. When the spinal nerves are impinged, they cannot properly send messages to the muscles from the brain, nor receive proper sensation from the specific arm location the nerve travels. Everywhere the spinal nerve travels will be affected. That is why a pinched nerve in the neck can cause pain, weakness, and loss of sensation in the arm.

Cervical Radiculopathy Causes and Risk Factors

Damage can occur as a result of pressure from material from a ruptured disc, degenerative changes in bones, arthritis, or other injuries that put pressure on the nerve roots.

Common causes

Common causes of cervical radiculopathy include:

  • Degenerative changes: In middle-aged people, normal degenerative changes in the discs can cause pressure on nerve roots. Cervical foraminal stenosis, for example, happens when these changes narrow the openings in your vertebrae, which causes them to pinch nerve roots
  • Injury: In younger people, cervical radiculopathy tends to be the result of a ruptured disc, perhaps as a result of trauma. Disks often herniate with activity, such as when you bend, lift, twist, or pull. When you herniate a disk, its material then compresses or inflames the nerve root, causing pain.

Other causes

Less often, cervical radiculopathy is caused by:

  • Infections in the spine
  • Tumors in the spine caused by cancer
  • Benign, or noncancerous, growths in the spine
  • Sarcoidosis, the growth of inflammatory cells

Risk factors

Some factors can raise your risk for cervical radiculopathy. Your risk may be higher if you:

  • Are white
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Had a prior radiculopathy
  • Lift heavy items
  • Often dive into a pool from a diving board
  • Drive equipment that vibrates
  • Play golf

How Is Cervical Radiculopathy Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause but aims to reduce pain and inflammation (swelling). First, nonoperative measures such as immobilization (keeping the neck still) in bed, local icing, and soft neck collar are used. The collar is worn for 1–2 weeks. A cervical pillow at night can help position the neck. Physical therapy for pain and inflammation may include gentle cervical traction, mobilization, and neck-strengthening exercises. Traction relieves muscle spasms. Traction with weights, by using a head halter, is usually applied at home. Electrical stimulation can calm muscle spasms and pain. Acupuncture is another option. Drugs including steroids and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) ibuprofen and naproxen sometimes help. Most people get better without surgery. If other treatments don’t work, surgery may be needed. Types of surgery include foraminotomy (making the passage for the nerve root bigger), discectomy (removing the disk where it presses against a nerve), and fusion (joining two or more bones into one).

For prevention and rehabilitation, certain activities (such as heavy lifting) are restricted and using proper sports technique (e.g., tackling in football) is important.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Cervical Radiculopathy:

  • DO skip high-impact activities, such as running, if you have neck pain.
  • DO exercises to maintain neck strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
  • DO take breaks when driving, watching TV, or working on a computer to avoid holding your head in the same position for long periods.
  • DO practice good posture.
  • DON’T forget to protect your neck from injury by using seatbelts in motor vehicles. Use proper sports techniques.