Cervical radiculopathy is characterised by sharp, persistent pain, numbness, and/or weakness in the shoulders, arms, hands, chest and upper back due to compressed or inflamed nerves in the cervix (neck). The condition can make daily tasks like writing and overhead lifting difficult so that you might have to make a visit to an orthopedic specialist.
However, 6-12 weeks of the following conventional and medicinal treatment often resolves the condition efficiently and effectively:
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1-Rest or Activity Modification:
For minor symptoms, temporarily limiting strenuous activities like contact sports and heavy lifting is usually enough to self-resolve the condition. Posture improvements are also recommended to facilitate the healing process.
If simple rest and avoidance proves to be insufficient, the next step is to prescribe soft cervical collars for regular wear until the condition improves. Padding and support provided by the collar promotes healing by limiting neck motion, decompressing pinched nerves, and resting the neck muscles. However, wearing cervical collars continuously over 1-2 weeks can have an adverse effect by weakening the neck muscles.
As a supportive treatment to cervical collars, activity modification, and posture improvement, ice-packs or heated gel packs can intermittently be applied over the neck. This helps reduce pain and inflammation, particularly following any strenuous activity.
People with moderate-to-extreme pain are often referred to a physiotherapist. Physiotherapy involves specialised exercise and stretching routines that are tailored to individual requirements. It focuses on reducing pain and inflammation, increasing mobility, and improving spinal stability, strength, range of motion, and posture.
Sessions usually last for a few weeks to months. For radiculopathy caused by a cervical deformity, a chiropractor may also be referred to manually adjusting the cervical spine.
The following medications help with pain and inflammation relief:
- NSAIDs: Common OTC painkillers like aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen can be taken alongside the above conservative treatments for effective pain management and reduce swelling and inflammation around the affected nerve.
- Corticosteroids: For persistent, severe pain, oral corticosteroids may be prescribed for the short-term.
- Steroid Injections: As a long-term and less harmful alternative to oral corticosteroids, steroid injections may be administered directly into the space surrounding the affected nerve to provide temporary or lasting relief. However, they do not relieve nerve pressure; only facilitate self-recovery by keeping pain and inflammation at bay.
- Narcotics: If patients are not responsive to any of the above pain-relievers, narcotics may be prescribed for a very brief duration due to their highly addictive nature.
Note:Treatment options are usually combined for maximum effect. Also, since blood flow to the nerves and discs is relatively slow, cervical radiculopathy takes longer to resolve. Standard recovery time is 3 months with significant improvement in 1-2 weeks, although some may take 6-12 months to fully heal.
While spinal surgery boasts an 80-90% success rate, it is only performed when all of the above treatments fail to resolve the condition, or the symptoms continue to progress into major life hindrances. The most commonly performed procedures include:
- Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion: It involves removing the herniated or damaged disk via a small incision in the front of the neck and fusing that region of the cervical spine. This relieves nerve compression by increasing room for nerve travel while keeping the neck stable.
- Artificial Disk Replacement: Where discectomy and fusion involve fusing the remainder cervical spine parts after removing the affected disk, disk replacement works by replacing the damaged disk with an artificial one. This helps relieve nerve pressure and maintain neck stability, all the while retaining the neck’s full mobility.
Cervical radiculopathy generally resolves on its own. However, it may sometimes develop into debilitating neurological symptoms if left untreated. So, if you observe any symptoms of cervical radiculopathy, consult with your doctor for a prompt diagnosis and treatment.
You can also book an appointment with a top Orthopedic Specialist in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your cervical concerns.