When the nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated at the point where it branches away from the spinal cord, cervical radiculopathy is the result. In most instances, this leads to severe pain that radiates into the shoulder and can cause muscle numbness and weakness that affects the arms and hands. Cervical radiculopathy is usually caused by wear and tear to the spine as people age.
Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy
Spinal stenosis, a condition that develops when the spinal canal narrows, can cause cervical radiculopathy. Poor posture, aging, repetitive motion, improper lifting techniques, hereditary degenerative bone conditions, and being overweight can also cause or exacerbate the condition. Among middle-aged individuals, degenerative changes in the discs can place pressure on the nerve roots. In younger people, cervical radiculopathy is generally due to discs ruptured through trauma.
Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy
One of the main symptoms of cervical radiculopathy is the pain that tends to radiate to the neck, arm, upper back, chest, and shoulders. Most individuals with this clinical condition encounter muscle weakness or numbness, as well as tingling in fingers or hands. Another common symptom is a lack of hand coordination.
It is worth noting that most people with cervical radiculopathy find their condition improves over time, without treatment. Some patients feel better after a few days or weeks while others may wait months to notice an improvement. It is also common for this condition to recur if care is not taken to alleviate the initial causes or triggers. People who do not find their condition improving require medical evaluation and treatment.
The initial step in treating cervical radiculopathy is nonsurgical. One of the two methods doctors most often use is a soft cervical collar. This padded ring is wrapped around the neck and prevents problematic movement. The second method is physical therapy. The therapist will teach the patient specific exercises meant to relieve pain. Through physical therapy, the individual can strengthen his or her neck muscles and improve range of motion.
If nonsurgical treatment does not relieve the pain after some time, the physician might recommend surgery and may choose from numerous procedures that can aid people with cervical radiculopathy. Various aspects will determine the type of surgical procedure the doctor recommends, including the symptoms the individual experiences, and the location of the nerve root.
The Risk Factors of Cervical Radiculopathy
Any activity that puts too much pressure on the spine can become a risk factor for cervical radiculopathy. People who undertake daily motions that involve heavy labor or contact sports are more likely to develop radiculopathy compared to those who lead less physically impactful lives. Having a family history of cervical radiculopathy or other spine complications also increases the chances of developing the condition.
Can I Prevent Cervical Radiculopathy?
Lifestyle plays a large role in whether or not an individual is likely to develop cervical radiculopathy, but there are no specific techniques that are guaranteed to prevent its onset. To reduce the risk, people should avoid excessive strain on their back and neck regions, maintain a reasonable weight, and, ideally, practice muscle conditioning. It is also advisable to seek medical attention as soon as symptoms develop.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Cervical Radiculopathy?
The process commences with a medical history and a physical examination. The medical practitioner will ask the patient about the location and duration of the symptoms and determine what motions make them worse or better. This enables the doctor to determine the affected nerve roots. The exam can then gauge the severity of the problem.
Outlook For Radiculopathy
The outlook is generally positive for people with cervical radiculopathy. Where the condition does not improve on its own, most people respond well to medication. Surgical procedures also tend to achieve impressive results without long-term limitations, with recovery rarely persisting beyond six months. Whatever the treatment, longer-term care can usually be administered at home, by the affected individual.