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Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical Radiculopathy

What is Cervical Radiculopathy?

The most common cause of Cervical Radiculopathy,  a herniated nucleus pulposus (herniated disc), which pinches one of the nerves in the neck. Other causes of cervical radiculopathy include bone spurs,  fractures,  infections and tumors.  Fortunately,  most of the time,  the causes are not as serious as the latter three.

What are the common complaints associated with Cervical Radiculopathy?

Usually, it begins with complaints of neck stiffness or pain,  followed by numbness, tingling or radiation to the arms and hands.   Because the nerves irritated can cause weakness to the muscles of the shoulders,  elbows, hand and wrist,  the certainty of the diagnosis not always clear.

What are the other possibilities other than Cervical Radiculopathy?

In General,  your history is most helpful to identify the diagnosis.  But, your physician usually has a so called Differential Diagnosis, when confronted with patients with possible cervical radiculopathy.  Other possibilities include:

Shoulder Rotator Cuff problems.

Brachial Plexus problems

Carpal/Cubital Tunnel syndrome

A type of neuropathy

How do you diagnose Cervical Radiculopathy?

After obtaining the history of the problem,  your physician will then perform a physical examination.  Does the history indicate a recent trauma, that may cause a fracture or a disk herniation?  Do you have a prior history of neck pain, and is your age such that bone spurs are likely?  Have you had any recent infections,  fevers, sweats?  Have you had any complaints that make cancer a possibility?

On physical examination,  your physician will usually perform a neurologic examination, and a musculoskeletal examination to try to differentiate nerve problems, versus muscle and joint problems.

Then finally,  if warranted,  your physician will order tests,  including x-rays or MRI’s (not always the first visit) if your symptoms are severe, or are not improving.

What are the Treatments for Cervical Radiculopathy?

As long as there are no concern for infection, tumor, or progressive neurologic deficits,  most episodes of cervical radiculopathy are treated initially with conservative options such as medications,  exercises,  physical therapy, or chiropractic care.  If you do not respond to these treatments,  further workup, including x-rays or MRI’s may be necessary.  Depending on the findings,  you may be offered more conservative care,  spinal injections,  or as a last resort surgical management.   If you are suffering from complaints that are consistent with cervical radiculopathy, and you do not improve, or worsen in a short time, please call your physician for an evaluation.


Last modified: January 5, 2018

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