Cervical radiculopathy occurs when there is pressure on a nerve from a disc herniation or arthritis, resulting in arm pain, numbness and tingling, and/or weakness. Affected nerves may be inflamed, pinched, or working ineffectively due to a lack of blood flow. This most commonly occurs in the 4th or 5th decade of life and is more common in men than women.
The most common presenting symptom is arm pain. This can travel from the neck down the upper back and then into the shoulders, forearms, and into the hands. This pain can vary dramatically, causing some people to have to alter their daily routine, while others can continue with their daily activities.
The pain is often accompanied by numbness and tingling that may be localized to a certain part of the upper extremity. In some cases patients will experience weakness in certain muscle groups. For example, when the C7 nerve root is pinched, patients may have trouble with the triceps, which allows you to keep your elbow straight.
Most patients with radiculopathy also have some degree of neck pain, caused by herniated discs or arthritis. In some instances, neck pain may be more predominant than arm symptoms.
In other situations pinched nerves may cause headaches that are generally in the back part of the head.
When the spinal cord is pinched by a disc herniation or arthritis, patients may experience signs and symptoms of cervical myelopathy. This is a potentially serious condition that is characterized by difficulty with balance and walking, over-active nerve reflexes, trouble with delicate finger movements such as buttoning buttons, and issues with bowel and bladder function.
X-rays only show bones and are the best tool to demonstrate arthritis in the neck. However, x-rays cannot demonstrate pinched nerves or disc herniations.
With persistent neck and arm symptoms that are unbearable or have lasted longer than a month, an MRI is often necessary. MRI scans, unlike x-rays, have the ability to illustrate soft tissue such as pinched nerves and disc herniations. In addition to demonstrating a disc herniation, an MRI will also show whether or not a herniation is pinching a nerve or the spinal cord.
Cervical radiculopathy may be prevented by avoiding the following: improper lifting, excessive body weight, repetitive strenuous activity, and smoking.