Recent years have seen pain in the hands and fingers, as well as shooting pains down the arm, increasingly associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s true that the condition – often a side effect of long-term desk jobs – is in fact a top cause of those symptoms. But spinal problems are another surprising and often overlooked cause, particularly pinched nerves.
Cervical radiculopathy is a condition that occurs when nerves in the neck are compressed or “pinched” and typically originates with a problem in the spine, like disc herniation. The resulting numbness and discomfort can quickly erode one’s quality of life.
Only sometimes does this condition require surgery, but it’s worth learning the best ways to take care of this potentially painful situation and get back to life as usual.
Understanding cervical radiculopathy/ pinched nerve
In laymen’s terms, cervical radiculopathy refers to a pinched nerve affecting the top, or cervical, vertebrae of the spine. As most of us age, we experience changes to our spinal disks. Disks may lose height and begin to bulge; other times they become stiffer as water content diminishes. The body sometimes responds by forming bone spurs – bony projections that develop along the edges of bones – to make up for the loss of cartilage cushioning.
These can pinch nerve roots, resulting in symptoms of cervical radiculopathy. Those include shooting pain down the arm, an electrical shock sensation, numbness and tingling.
Common physical causes include disc herniation, advanced osteoarthritis, sports injuries, degenerative disc disease and whiplash injuries. This condition can also be triggered by heavy lifting, driving or operating vibrating equipment or playing collision sports such as hockey and football.
Diagnosing and treating a pinched nerve
Cervical radiculopathy is diagnosed through medical imaging: X-rays and MRIs. The former can detect whether there is osteoarthritis present or if there has been a loss of disc height. An MRI, meanwhile, will show if a disc is herniated or bulging and can even pinpoint where nerves are being pinched.
Once a doctor has confirmed a pinched nerve is the cause of your pain, he or she will typically suggest one of several treatments, including:
- Physical therapy
- Decompression therapy
- Epidural injections
Surgery is generally a last resort, but can become necessary if the condition is severe and other methods have failed. The good news, however, is that there are plenty of paths to take before surgery. Explore all of your options for healing your pinched nerve and pick the one that’s best for you.