Cervical Radiculopathy, or more popularly known as “pinched nerve”, is the damage to nerve function. This is resultant to the pinching of nerve roots near the cervical vertebrae.
In older adults, it is often attributable to degenerative changes in the spine as one grows old. Such changes are often referred to as arthritis or spondylosis. They occur as a result of the vertebrae (the bones that make up the spinal column) moving closer together. This is due to thinning of the jelly-like disk spread between them. The body responds by forming more bone to strengthen the collapsed spine. As bone deposits increase, the small holes on either side of the spine start to narrow. As this happens, pinching occurs in the nerve that exits from them.
In younger people, the usual cause of cervical radiculopathy is sudden injury, resulting in a herniated disk. Pain occurs when the herniated disk bulges out and puts pressure on a sensitive nerve root.
The pain resulting from cervical radiculopathy is described as sharp, burning pain. Often, it starts in the neck and radiates into the shoulder down to the arms and hands. Turning the head or extending the neck worsens the pain. Aside from pain, there may also be muscle weakness, tingling or burning sensation, and even total loss of sensation. In some cases, it is completely asymptomatic and does not cause pain at all. Up to now, it is not clear why some individuals experience symptoms while others do not. At any rate, the symptoms are said to be relieved by putting the hands on the top the head.
Most cases of cervical radiculopathy will eventually resolve without treatment. Even when the pain returns after some time, no treatment is necessary. However, if the symptoms do not improve and get worse, evaluation and treatment by a specialist is the best option. Treatment can be surgical or non-surgical. Non-surgical treatment includes placement of soft cervical collar, physical therapy, medications (i.e. NSAIDs and oral corticosteroids), and steroid injections. Surgical treatment is employed only when the non-surgical options prove to be ineffective.
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