A Pain In The Neck - What Is Cervical Radiculopathy?

By Athlete's Care on February 04, 2022

Experiencing a literal pain in the neck? As our Toronto physiotherapists and other sports medicine specialists will tell you, it’s often a case of cervical radiculopathy.

Cervical radiculopathy is often called a pinched nerve. It occurs when a nerve in the neck area becomes compressed or irritated at the point where it attaches to the spinal cord.

The spine & neck

The spine comprises 24 bones, stacked one on top of the other. The bones, in essence, protect an inner canal where the spinal cord sits. The cervical spine includes the top seven bones from the neck to the base of the skull.

Changes to the disks cause responses in the body, including bone spurs around the disk that can in turn make the spine stiffer, and narrowing of the passages where the nerves roots exit the spine, effectively pinching the nerve ends.

What are the symptoms?

  • It can cause pain, including severe headaches, usually at the back of the head;
  • The pain may radiate from the neck into the shoulder and arm, even to the hand;
  • Along with pain, you may experience numbness or weakness in the neck and shoulder muscles.

What causes it?

  • Sudden injuries, often which result in a herniated disk;
  • Wear and tear over time, usually with older patients, and the disks flatten and begin to bulge or herniate.

In cases of wear and tear damage, it can also occur in conjunction with arthritic changes. Sometimes, no firm cause can be established.

We can help

Your Toronto physiotherapist, chiropractor or other sports medicine specialist will begin with a thorough examination and history. They will ask questions about the pain, as well as issues like range of motion in the neck.

Tests may be requested.

  • X-rays can show the narrowing of the foramen in the spine at the nerve roots, and can show damage to spinal disks.
  • Often, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test can show signs of cervical radiculopathy. The test will display abnormal areas of softer tissues around the spine.

Treatment options

Your sports medicine specialist will determine the right course of action for your situation.

  • Physical therapy – specific exercises recommended by your Toronto physiotherapist or sports medicine specialist can help to strengthen neck muscles, improve motion, and relieve pain.
  • Medications – starting with non-prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help control pain.
  • Cervical Pillow – designed to promote the correct curvature of the cervical spine, these can help ease discomfort, especially at night for better sleep.
  • Epidural Steroid Injection (Nerve Block) – a cortisone injection is given direction into the bony part of the spinal canal.
  • Surgery is only suggested where other treatment options haven’t helped to correct bone spurs and pinched foramen.

Whether it’s due to an injury or deterioration over time, cervical radiculopathy can be painful and debilitating. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described, or you have questions about spine and neck health, don’t hesitate to contact one of our Toronto physiotherapy and chiropractic clinics for a consultation.