A pinched or compressed nerve in your neck is also known as cervical radiculopathy. This condition occurs when a nerve root in your neck becomes compressed as it branches out from the vertebrae in your cervical spine. A pinched nerve in your neck can cause pain that extends beyond your neck.
What Are the Symptoms of a Pinched or Compressed Nerve in the Neck?
When you have a compressed nerve in your neck, you may feel a burning pain that begins in your neck and radiates down your arm to your hands and fingers. It is usually experienced on both sides of the body and can worsen when you turn your head or extend your neck. You may also experience other symptoms that include:
- Pins and needles sensation in your fingers and hands
- Muscle weakness in your shoulders, arms, or hands
- Feeling numb in areas of your neck, shoulders, arms, or hands.
- Loss of reflexes
- Lack of coordination
- Loss of mobility
Causes of a Pinched or Compressed Nerve in the Neck
There is more than one way that you may get this condition. Most of the time, the condition is due to degenerative changes or an injury.
As our bodies age over time, we can experience various degenerative changes that come from the regular wear and tear of everyday life activities. Over time, the openings in our vertebrae can narrow, causing the nerve root to become pinched as it exits the spinal column. Degenerative changes are the more common cause in patients who are middle-aged or older.
In younger patients, a compressed nerve can come from an injury to the neck due to trauma. It can also come from bending, lifting, or pulling, resulting in a herniated disk.
On rare occasions, a neck nerve can become compressed due to other conditions. An infection in the spine, benign and malignant tumors, or inflammatory conditions such as sarcoidosis can be responsible for a compressed nerve.
Risk Factors for Compressed Nerve in the Neck
Some people carry a higher risk factor for developing this condition. A person is more likely to develop a compressed nerve in their neck if they:
- Frequently lift heavy objects
- Have arthritic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
- Are obese
- Regularly drive or operate equipment or machinery that vibrates
- Play golf
- Use a diving board for diving into a swimming pool
- Previously suffered from a pinched nerve condition
- Have poor posture
Possible Complications from a Compressed Nerve in the Neck
Most people who suffer from a compressed nerve in their neck can recover with rest, physical therapy, and other treatment options. However, the following potential complications can occur from this condition:
- Incomplete recovery of the nerve
- Loss of full range of motion
- Chronic neck pain
- Further narrowing of the disk space
- Bone spur development
Preventing Compressed Nerves in the Neck
You can prevent cervical radiculopathy by practicing healthy living habits. Maintaining good posture when sitting, standing, or playing sports is integral to avoiding this condition. Maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically fit can also reduce your chances of developing compressed nerves. If you lift heavy objects, make sure that you use recognized best practices such as keeping your neck in a neutral and comfortable position, holding the objects close to your body when you lift them and using your legs and hips to lift instead of your back.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Compressed Nerves in the Neck
Your doctor will need to confirm the diagnosis to determine the suitable treatment options for your situation. Common diagnosis and treatment activities include:
Doctors diagnose compressed nerves through a physical examination and some follow-up testing. Following a hands-on exam, your doctor may order the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:
- X-Ray that can show cervical spine alignment and narrowed disk space
- MRI for more detailed views of soft tissue, the spinal cord, and nerve roots
- CT scan for bone details such as the formation of bone spurs
- Electromyogram for a detailed study of the muscles and how the injury is affecting them
- Nerve conduction to confirm the electrical impulses between nerves
Compressed nerves in your neck will typically heal by themselves in a few weeks. Treatment of the condition to help you heal can include:
- Cervical collar to stabilize your neck
- NSAID anti-inflammatory drugs
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections
- Pain medication
Cervical radiculopathy normally heals in a matter of days or weeks for most patients. If you are having trouble with the pain from a compressed nerve in your neck, contact us to make an appointment with one of our qualified pain management professionals at the Pain Center of San Diego.