Cervical Radiculopathy


What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy is a condition characterized by nerve irritation caused by damage to the cervical spine’s nerve roots. This damage can occur due to various factors, such as disc herniation, age-related wear and tear, spinal stenosis, or trauma to the neck.

Symptoms may include pain spreading into the arm, neck, chest, or shoulders, a tingling sensation, muscle weakness, or numbness in the hand or fingers. While it can cause significant discomfort, it’s treatable through various methods like physical therapy, medication, injections, and in severe cases, surgery. If left untreated, it can potentially lead to chronic complications.

Recognising Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy is a damage of cervical spine nerve root
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You may suffer from cervical radiculopathy if you experience neck pain, discomfort, or weakness in your arms. This condition occurs when the nerves in your cervical spine become compressed or irritated.

Radicular Pain

A common symptom of cervical radiculopathy is radicular pain, which is a sharp, shooting pain that radiates down your arm. This pain can be intense and may be accompanied by weakness or numbness in your arm.

Numbness and Tingling

Another symptom of cervical radiculopathy is numbness and tingling in your arm, hand, or fingers. This sensation can range from a mild pins-and-needles feeling to a complete loss of sensation.

The Role of Brachial Plexus

Your brachial plexus is a network of nerves transmitting signals between your neck and arm. When the nerves in your cervical spine become compressed or irritated, this can affect the functioning of your brachial plexus, leading to a range of symptoms.

Diagnosing Cervical Radiculopathy

To diagnose cervical radiculopathy, your doctor may perform a physical examination to assess your neck and arm for weakness, sensation, and reflexes. They may also ask about your medical history and any past injuries or conditions that could be contributing to your symptoms.

Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as a cervical MRI, to see the spine and detect any abnormalities, like a herniated disc. They may also order an electromyography (EMG) to evaluate the electrical activity in your muscles and a nerve conduction study (NCS) to assess the function of your nerves.

Cervical MRI

A cervical MRI is a non-invasive imaging test that uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to produce detailed images of the cervical spine. This test can show any abnormalities present in the intervertebral discs, nerve roots, and spinal cord. It is a painless procedure that does not use radiation.

Cervical Myelopathy

It is important to note that cervical radiculopathy can progress to a more severe condition called cervical myelopathy. This occurs when the spinal cord is compressed, leading to muscle weakness, loss of coordination, and difficulty walking. If your doctor suspects cervical myelopathy, they may order additional tests, such as a cervical CT scan or myelogram, to further evaluate the spine.

Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Study (NCS)

An EMG and NCS may be ordered to help diagnose cervical radiculopathy and determine the exact location of the nerve compression. An EMG measures the electrical activity of your muscles, while an NCS assesses the nerve function and conduction speed. These tests can help your doctor determine the nerve damage’s severity and the most appropriate treatment plan.

Common Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy

Herniated cervical disc is one of the causes of cervical radiculopathy
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Cervical radiculopathy can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Cervical Stenosis: Narrowing the spinal canal in the neck can pressure spinal nerve roots, leading to radicular pain.
  • Foraminal Stenosis: Narrowing of the small openings in the spinal column where the nerves exit can cause nerve compression and lead to radiculopathy.
  • Herniated Disc: A herniated disc in the cervical spine can compress a nerve root, leading to pain and other symptoms.
  • Parasthesia is characterized by an abnormal sensation like numbness or tingling in the affected area.

Managing Cervical Radiculopathy: Non-Surgical Treatments

Here are some pain management techniques that may help:

  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can work with you to develop an exercise program to improve your posture and strengthen your neck and shoulder muscles. This may include gentle neck stretches and range-of-motion exercises.
  • Heat and cold therapy: Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Try alternating between ice packs and warm compresses for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may provide temporary relief. If your pain is more severe, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications.

Cervical decompression is another therapy that may help relieve radiculopathic symptoms. This therapy involves gently stretching the neck to create space between the cervical vertebrae, reducing pressure on the nerves in the neck.

If these non-surgical treatments aren’t effective in managing your symptoms, your doctor may recommend other options such as:

  • Cervical epidural injections: Injections of steroids and numbing medication around the affected nerve root can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
  • Cervical traction: This therapy involves the use of a device to gently pull the head away from the neck, creating space between the cervical vertebrae and reducing pressure on the nerves in the neck.
  • Cervical orthosis: A cervical collar or brace can help support the neck and reduce pressure on the affected nerve.

Surgical Options for Cervical Radiculopathy in Australia

surgical treatment is recommended if non-surgical options are ineffective for cervical radiculopathy
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If non-surgical treatments are not effective for your cervical radiculopathy, your doctor may suggest surgery. There are a variety of surgical options available in Australia that may help relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Cervical Fusion

Cervical fusion is a common surgery for relieving neck and arm pain caused by cervical radiculopathy. During the procedure, your surgeon fuses together two or more cervical vertebrae to create a single, stable piece of bone. This helps to prevent movement between the affected vertebrae and can relieve pressure on the pinched nerve.

Cervical Discography

Cervical discography is a diagnostic tool used to help identify the source of your neck and arm pain. During the procedure, your doctor will insert needles into the discs in your cervical spine and inject a contrast dye. This allows your doctor to visualize the discs using X-rays or CT scans. If a disc is found to be causing your symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove or repair the damaged disc.

Cervical Arthroplasty

Cervical arthroplasty is a surgical option used to treat cervical radiculopathy caused by a herniated disc. During the procedure, your surgeon will remove the damaged disc and replace it with an artificial one. This helps to relieve pressure on the affected nerve and restore normal neck and arm function.

Managing Cervical Radiculopathy: Non-Surgical Treatments

One pain management technique that may be helpful is stretching exercises that can improve your range of motion and alleviate muscle tension.

Additionally, cervical decompression therapies like cervical collars and cervical traction can help relieve pressure on your affected nerves. Cervical epidural injections can also be used to reduce pain and inflammation.

Preventing Cervical Radiculopathy and Managing Risk Factors

Proper sleeping posture is vital for prevention of cervical radiculopathy
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If you want to prevent cervical radiculopathy, there are several things you can do. Here are some tips:

  • Maintain good posture when you’re sitting or standing. Avoid slouching or hunching over your computer or phone.
  • Use a cervical pillow or an orthosis that supports your neck while you’re sleeping.
  • Avoid neck injuries by using proper form when lifting heavy objects, playing sports or exercising.
  • Regularly perform exercises that help maintain cervical range of motion. Consult your physiotherapist for guidance on appropriate exercises.

If you have already been diagnosed with cervical radiculopathy or are at risk due to underlying conditions, there are ways to manage those risks:

  • Use a cervical collar or orthosis to support your neck and provide stability.
  • Consider cervical epidural injections to alleviate inflammation and pain in the affected area.
  • Try cervical traction to relieve pressure on the affected nerve roots.

Living with Cervical Radiculopathy: Coping Strategies and Support

If you have been diagnosed with cervical radiculopathy, knowing you are not alone is important. Coping with the condition can be challenging, but strategies and support are available to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Coping Strategies

  • Practice good posture and ergonomics to reduce strain on your neck and spine.
  • Use a supportive cervical pillow or orthosis to help maintain proper alignment while sleeping or sitting.
  • Engage in low-impact exercise, like swimming or walking, to help improve your strength and flexibility.
  • Try alternative therapies like yoga, massage, or chiropractic care to help relieve pain and improve mobility.
  • Use heat or ice therapy to help soothe sore muscles and reduce inflammation.
  • Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing depression or anxiety related to your condition; they may be able to recommend therapy or support groups.

Emotional Support

Living with cervical radiculopathy can be emotionally challenging, especially if you are experiencing chronic pain or disability. It is important to seek emotional support when needed and connect with others who understand what you are going through.

  • Join a support group for people with cervical radiculopathy or chronic pain.
  • Talk to a therapist or counsellor about your feelings and concerns.
  • Connect with friends and family members who can offer empathy and support.

Self-Care Practices

self-care is vital for living with, dealing and preventing cervical radiculopathy
Photo Credit: Freepik

Self-care practices can help you manage your symptoms and improve your overall well-being. Here are some self-care strategies you might find helpful:

  • Practice mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises to help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Engage in activities that bring you joy, like reading, cooking, or listening to music.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet to support your overall health.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Get enough restful sleep to help your body heal and restore itself.

Cervical Radiculopathy Resources in Australia

If you’re looking for more information and resources on cervical radiculopathy, Australia has a range of options available. Here are some resources you may find helpful:

  • Australian Pain Society: The APS has a range of resources available for those living with chronic pain, including cervical radiculopathy. You can access information on pain management techniques and find healthcare professionals in your area.
  • Pain Australia: This organisation is dedicated to raising awareness of chronic pain conditions and supporting those living with them. They have an online directory of healthcare professionals and information on accessing pain management programs in Australia.
  • Australian Physiotherapy Association: The APA has a range of resources available for those living with neck and arm pain, including cervical radiculopathy. You can find information on exercises and stretches to relieve symptoms and locate a physiotherapist in your area.
  • Australian Orthotic Prosthetic Association: If you’re considering using a cervical orthosis to manage your symptoms, this association can help you locate a professional in your area. They also have information on the different types of orthoses available and what to expect during a fitting.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Cervical Radiculopathy

How do you fix cervical radiculopathy?

Treatment for cervical radiculopathy involves physical therapy, medication, possible corticosteroid injections, or in severe cases, surgery. Your healthcare provider will guide you towards the most appropriate treatment.

What does cervical radiculopathy feel like?

Cervical radiculopathy is typically characterised by pain spreading into the arm, neck, chest, or shoulders, a tingling sensation, muscle weakness, or numbness in the hand or fingers.

What are 4 of the main causes of cervical radiculopathy?

The main causes of cervical radiculopathy include disc herniation, cervical spondylosis (age-related wear and tear), spinal stenosis (spinal canal narrowing), and neck trauma.

Is cervical radiculopathy serious?

While not typically life-threatening, untreated cervical radiculopathy can lead to chronic pain, permanent nerve damage, and in rare cases, coordination problems or bowel or bladder control issues.