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Cervical Nerve Impingement

(Cervical Radiculopathy)

If you have pain at the back of your shoulder, around the shoulder blade, or find you are getting pain radiating down one or both of your arms as far down as the fingers you may have a nerve being irritated or pressed upon/impinged in your neck. You may have cervical radiculopathy.

What Is cervical radiculopathy?

Cervical (neck) radiculopathy (nerve pain) occurs when a nerve root in your neck is pinched or compressed as it leaves the spinal cord. This can present as shoulder or arm pain radiating down as far as the fingers. You may experience altered sensation in parts of the arm/hand, and in some cases, you may notice reduced strength in the arm or that your grip is weaker.

What causes cervical radiculopathy?

The most common cause of cervical radiculopathy is degeneration of the intervertebral discs the vertebrae (the building blocks of the spine) and the surrounding supporting structures. A herniated disc and/or arthritic bone spurs can cause compression of a nerve root along its path as it leaves the spinal cord. The repetitive stress of sitting at a desk, working at a computer all day, is a common triggering factor of neck symptoms in individuals who already have wear and tear in their neck.

Other causes of nerve impingement is an acute disc bulge following trauma and less commonly, tumors and infections.

Cervical radiculopathy diagnosis and tests

Symptoms of cervical nerve root irritation can be mistaken for shoulder pain, especially seeing that you may not always get neck pain. This is why getting an accurate diagnosis is crucial to developing a treatment plan.

In most cases, a clinical diagnosis can be made by taking a thorough medical history and clinical examination. The diagnosis is confirmed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

What treatments are there for cervical radiculopathy?

Treatment options include physical therapy, medications, cervical steroid injections and surgery.

Cervical traction may provide temporary pain relief but this should be used with caution and under advice. 

When should you be concerned about cervical radiculopathy symptoms (RED FLAGS)?

Cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM) is a condition where the spinal cord becomes compressed by the degenerative changes of the bones of the neck. This causes stiffness, weakness and numbness in the arms and legs (usually both). There may be bowel or bladder dysfunction in extreme cases. 

CSM is most common in people who are older than 50 years old and can cause severe pain and disability.

If you are experiencing neck pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis in one or both arms, hands, legs, and feet, make an appointment to see a medical professional at the earliest opportunity.

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