Radiculopathy originates from the Greek word ‘radix’ or ‘root’. Cervical Radiculopathy (CR) occurs when one or more of the nerves exiting the cervix (neck) becomes compressed or inflamed, and damaged. This results in numbness, tingling sensations, and varying levels of pain depending upon where the damaged nerve and its corresponding cervical vertebra is located.
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Pain that originates in the neck and spreads into the shoulders, upper back, chest, arms and hands is the defining symptom of cervical radiculopathy. However, the pain may also be limited only to one area and is commonly described as either dull and general or burning, sharp, and shooting. Other key symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness
- Numb or tingling finger and hands (this can affect one’s ability to grip or lift objects, and perform daily tasks like writing and typing)
- Lack of hand coordination
Note:Symptoms may not always appear suddenly. They may also develop gradually or appear from time to time before becoming a constant presence.
Each nerve corresponds to a different cervical vertebra. The affected areas and symptoms depend upon the nerve-and-vertebra pair affected, with vertebrae numbers 5-8 being afflicted with cervical radiculopathy:
- C7 Radiculopathy: Damage to the nerve corresponding to the C7 vertebra causes pain, weakness and numbness in the hand, triceps and middle finger. It reduces grip strength and makes overhead activities difficult.
- C6 Radiculopathy: The second most common form of cervical radiculopathy manifests as pain, weakness, and numbness in the biceps, wrists, thumb, and index finger.
- C5 Radiculopathy: It manifests as pain and weakness in the shoulder and upper arms as well as discomfort around the shoulder blades
- C8 Radiculopathy: The pain radiates throughout the arm and hands, including the inside of the arm, ring, and little fingers. C8 radiculopathy also affects grip strength.
Note: Some people may experience symptoms in multiple locations that are not specific to any one type.
Cervical nerve compression or inflammation can be caused by multiple factors, with the most common ones being:
A ruptured disc is the primary contributor of cervical radiculopathy in people between 20-40. In such cases, an injury resulting from excess lifting, pulling, bending or twisting causes the outer ring of a cervical disk to tear and its acidic central material, i.e. the ‘nucleus pulposus’, to leak out. This leaked fluid places pressure on the nerves and causes chemical burns or irritation in the surrounding tissue, resulting in nerve damage, pain, and other CR symptoms.
2-Cervical Spinal Stenosis:
In people over 60, cervical radiculopathy is a by-product of aging. Gradual wear and tear causes changes in the cervical spinal joints, leading to tightening of the spinal canal. This leaves less room for the nerves to pass through, resulting in compression and pressure on nerves.
3-Cervical Degenerative Disk Disease:
Similar to spinal stenosis, the gradual degeneration of a disc in the spine causes it to become flatter and stiffer. Since disks help support the spine, these changes in shape cause compression and inflammation in the surrounding nerve root(s). It is highly common in people above 50.
4-Arthritic Bone Spurs:
Inflammation and stiffness in the joints due to arthritis often prompts the formation of bony outgrowths or ‘spurs’. When formed inside the foramen (the canal through which the nerves exit the neck), these bone spurs irritate and compress the passing nerves, resulting in symptoms related to cervical radiculopathy.
Cervical radiculopathy is fairly common and easy to treat. If you observe any unexplained, persistent pain between your shoulders and hands, consult with your doctor to help determine the root cause.
You can also book an appointment with a top Orthopedic Specialist in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your spinal concerns.
About the Writer:
Yashfa Marrium is a freelance writer and health enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected]