Pinched Neck Nerve
By Alex Bigale, PTA
What is a Pinched Neck Nerve?
Cervical Radiculopathy, or more commonly called a pinched nerve, occurs when a nerve root is pinched, compressed, or irritated where it exits the spinal cord. The neck, or cervical spine, is a common place for this injury to take place. When a nerve gets pinched where it comes out of the spinal cord a person may not feel it in the spine. Typically the pain is felt further along the line where the nerve travels, such as the arm or leg. The nerves that originate in the cervical spine travel to the shoulders and arm. These are the typically painful areas with a pinched nerve in the neck. Other symptoms of cervical radiculopathy include:
- tingling (pins and needles) feeling in the hands and fingers.
- weakness or the arm or hands.
- complete loss of sensation in part or all of the upper extremity.
What Causes a Pinched Nerve in the Neck?
The majority of cases of cervical radiculopathy stem from degenerative changes as we age such as arthritis and shrinking disk space in between the vertebrae. As this space decreases, the body responds by building more bones and results in what is known as bone spurs. These spurs can form around the foramen of the vertebrae which is where the nerve exits the spinal cord and can pinch down on the nerve. As we age, many people develop arthritis of the cervical spine but only about half of these people develop nerve pain from these degenerative changes. The most common cause of a pinched nerve in younger people is from an acute injury that results in a herniated disk. A herniated disk is where the jelly like substance in disk pushes against the outer ring and bulges out towards the spinal canal. This bulge can push pressure on the adjacent nerve root and cause pain.
How Do You Know if You Have a Pinched Nerve in Your Neck?
If you are having any of the above persisting symptoms, you should consult your primary care physician or see an orthopedic specialist. They will begin with a physical exam of your neck and arms. They will most likely test your sensations, strength, and perform different movements to see if they provoke symptoms. These tests will help the physician determine the cause of your pain.
Imaging can be performed to gain a more precise picture of what is causing the pain. X-rays and CT scans can be utilized to see the bones and detect if bone spurs are building on the areas where the nerves exit the spinal cord. An MRI can be performed to determine if soft tissues such as a herniated disk are the source of the pain.
How Do You Fix A Pinched Neck Nerve?
- NSAIDS, oral corticosteroids, and steroid injections are all treatments that work to reduce inflammation, swelling, and nerve irritation.
- Physical therapy can be performed to improve mobility with manual stretches and joint mobilizations, strengthen supporting musculature, improve ROM, and reduce pain.
- After attempting nonsurgical options, a physician may determine that surgery is necessary to help relieve pain/decrease symptoms. The majority of surgical interventions remove bone or soft tissue to help decrease pressure on the nerve root. A cervical fusion may also be performed to increase stability of the vertebrae.
If you think you have a pinched nerve in your neck, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute can help. Our doctors and therapists are experts at treating nerve issues in the neck. We offer ASAP Appointments and telemedicine visits as well.
If you would like to see a JOI Neck Specialist, call JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below.