A pinched nerve in the neck is also called cervical radiculopathy. It is characterized by radiating pain from the neck to the shoulder, shoulder blade, arm, or hand. Weakness and lack of coordination in the arm and hand can also occur. Athletes, heavy laborers, and workers who use vibrating machinery are commonly affected. People who sit for long periods of time, or individuals with arthritis in the cervical region can also be affected. Conservative care, including physical therapy, can help reduce symptoms. A physical therapist can help alleviate the acute neck and arm symptoms that result from the condition, as well as improve general strength and function. Most cases of cervical radiculopathy are resolved with physical therapy and do not require surgery. What is cervical radiculopathy? Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve root coming off the spinal cord becomes compressed. The compression can occur when a cervical disc herniates or as a result of arthritis or decreased disc height in the neck region.
The neck has 7 cervical vertebrae (the bones that form the neck region). Each vertebra is separated by a gel-like disc. The discs provide 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. Spinal nerves can be pinched by : arthritic changes with age, bulging discs from trauma or degeneration, spinal stenosis or narrowing of the canal of nerves, or a tumor which impinges the nerve root. When the spinal nerves are impinged, they cannot properly send messages to the muscles from the brain, or receive proper sensation from the arm. 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, even though the pinch is in the upper neck region.
The symptoms may include pain in the neck, shoulder blade, or arm, with pain radiating into fingers. Pain may be described as “sharp” or “pins-and-needles” or “popping sensation” in the neck. Pain may also be described as a general dull ache or numbness anywhere along the pathway of the nerve. Sometimes, there is weakness in the arm or hand. The pain may lessen when the arm is lifted over and behind the head.
Physical therapy is an effective treatment for cervical radiculopathy. The treatment may include pain management, manual therapy, posture education, and range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises and functional training. There are ways to prevent this type of neck pain from recurring, including: maintaining proper posture, setting up your workstation to minimize undue forces on the spine, continuing with regular exercise, and keeping a healthy weight.
Call us at Campbell Therapy Center today if you have neck or arm pain. We can help relieve the pain and get you back to your normal daily activities.