Pain is something that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives, and the condition tends to affect some people more than others. According to the NHS, pain is the number one reason why American adults see a doctor or utilize another department of the country’s healthcare system and also the number one contributor to overall healthcare costs. Pain can affect almost any part of the human body and is not considered a condition in itself but rather a symptom that signals an underlying medical concern, such as inflammation or tissue damage. Pain can be caused by a large number of problems – it can sometimes signal a mild problem that will go away on its own but can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious problem that requires medical attention.
In this post, we want to focus on a condition known as cervical radiculopathy. This is a general term that is used to describe neurological and pain symptoms that are caused by an irritation or compression in the nerve that is located in the cervical spine, which forms part of the neck. Pain is not the only symptom that may occur with the development of cervical radiculopathy, and the condition can sometimes lead to a sudden flare-up up symptoms, which may be uncomfortable and disabling to the affected patient.
Symptoms Of Cervical Radiculopathy
As mentioned previously, cervical radiculopathy is a general term that is used to describe any symptoms that may arise when the nerve in the cervical spine is irritated or, in some cases, compressed by surrounding muscles and tissue. When it comes to describing the symptoms of cervical radiculopathy, it is important to take note that the symptoms tend to vary from one person to another and that the type of pain one person experiences would not necessarily be the same type of pain another person experiences, even when they are both suffering from the same type of cervical radiculopathy.
The most common symptoms associated with cervical radiculopathy, according to SPINE-health, include pain, numbness, and weakness. These symptoms will be experienced in various areas, including the neck, where the cervical spine is located. The pain may also affect the shoulders and arms since the nerve runs all the way down both arms to support muscle function. In some patients, cervical radiculopathy also causes them to experience symptoms in their hands, including their fingers.
Some patients may experience a dull pain, while others rather experience a more sharp pain that is often described as “knife-like” and burning. Patients who experience numbness may also find that they developed a pins-and-needles sensation in some of the affected areas.
Causes Of Cervical Radiculopathy
There are a number of underlying medical conditions that may lead to the development of symptoms associated with cervical radiculopathy. In most cases of this condition, it is found that the underlying condition leading to the symptoms is causing compression on the cervical spine’s nerve or that the condition is causing the nerve to become irritated.
Common conditions that are known to cause cervical radiculopathy include a cervical herniated disc, cervical spinal stenosis, and cervical degenerative disc disease. Cervical radiculopathy amongst younger individuals is most often caused by a cervical herniated disc, which is a condition where the material found in the disks of the cervical spine leaks out, causing the adjacent nerve to become inflamed.
Cervical spinal stenosis, which is a condition where the space in the spinal canal becomes tightened, is a relatively common cause of cervical radiculopathy amongst the elderly, especially those over the age of 60. Cervical degenerative disc disease is also a relatively common cause of this condition amongst the elderly.
According to WebMD, there are some other causes for cervical radiculopathy as well. In some patients, arthritis may be the cause for the development of this condition. It is also important to understand that injury to the cervical spine in the neck can also cause the cervical nerve to be irritated or compressed, thus leading to the development of symptoms associated with cervical radiculopathy.
Risks And Complications Of Cervical Radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy is not a life-threatening condition on its own, but the underlying causes that lead to the development of the symptoms associated with this condition can be quite problematic if they are left untreated. One particularly common complication of cervical radiculopathy involves the inability to perform daily tasks such as cooking, dressing, and writing. This particular complication is relatively common amongst individuals who experience numbness and weakness in their hands and fingers. These symptoms then make it hard for the person to have a good grip when touching or holding items.
How Cervical Radiculopathy Is Diagnosed
A patient suffering from neck pain, as well as the other symptoms associated with cervical radiculopathy, can seek medical assistance from a healthcare professional. The doctor will perform a physical examination in order to detect any abnormalities and will most likely request further tests to be performed. Additional testing may include X-rays and an MRI scan. These tests will help the healthcare provider determine the underlying cause of the symptoms the patient is complaining about.
An MRI is often the only test required in order to diagnose cervical radiculopathy, as reported by the University of Maryland Medical Center. The MRI scan allows the healthcare provider to observe both the discs and nerves in the patient’s cervical spine. This will not only help the healthcare provider to determine if the patient is indeed suffering from cervical radiculopathy and will also help to diagnose the underlying condition that is causing the patient to experience these symptoms. It is important to determine what the underlying cause for these symptoms is, as this will assist with providing the patient with a more effective treatment plan.
Treatment Options For Cervical Radiculopathy
When a patient has been diagnosed with cervical radiculopathy, they will most likely also be diagnosed with another condition, which is the underlying cause for the symptoms they have developed. Since cervical radiculopathy is not a condition on its own, a treatment plan will mostly involve relieving the symptoms that the patient is experiencing, as well as targeting the underlying cause that has been diagnosed.
Medscape explains that patients diagnosed with cervical radiculopathy are often provided nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, which help to reduce the level of inflammation experienced in the neck and the area that surrounds the particular cervical nerve. NSAIDs are also effective in reducing the pain that the patient experiences. Some patients may also be provided oral steroids, which is useful for reduces the inflammation that is present in patients suffering from this condition – the inflammation is a primary cause for the compression that leads to the symptoms of cervical radiculopathy.
In some cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe a tricyclic antidepressant for the patient. These antidepressants are known to assist with reducing pain signals, which can be useful for alleviating the pain experienced by the patient.
Apart from medication, many patients also find relief with hot and cold therapy. Heat packs and ice packs can be applied to the affected area, which may help to reduce both pain reception and inflammation present in the neck. Resting may also help with the recovery of this condition, and an adjustment in the patient’s activity levels can also be useful.
Another common option for patients with cervical radiculopathy is to undergo physical therapy. These may include exercises that assist with stretching the affected muscles. It is important to ensure a certified physical therapist provides a patient with physical therapy services in order to ensure there is no risk of further injury. Furthermore, we should also note that a lot of patients have found a great deal of relief in their symptoms when they opt for chiropractic therapy, which helps to realign the entire spine, including the cervical spine.
Preventing Cervical Radiculopathy
Preventing cervical radiculopathy is considered the most appropriate treatment approach since the development of the condition can be quite unpleasant for a patient. mTatva Health explains that the best preventative measure to take is to avoid or at least reduce the exposure to the risk factors of cervical radiculopathy. Maintaining a healthy posture while sitting and standing can also be useful, and sleeping the right way on a bed that has been developed to support the spine is also a good preventative strategy. It is also important to participate in regular physical activity and to consume a healthy diet, which will help to reduce levels of inflammation in the body and also contribute to a healthier bodyweight. Maintaining a healthier bodyweight is extremely beneficial when it comes to reducing the risk of developing spinal conditions.
Cervical radiculopathy refers to symptoms that are the result of a compression or irritation to the cervical spine’s nerve. The symptoms may include pain, numbness, and a feeling of weakness and do not only affect the cervical spine. There are numerous causes of this condition. Even though unpleasant and painful, patients should be aware that several treatment options are available. The particular options presented to a particular patient would depend on the underlying cause of the symptoms they are experiencing. Several preventative measures can also be taken to reduce the risk of developing cervical radiculopathy.