The cervical spine refers to the first seven vertebrae of your spinal column. There are nerve roots that travel from the spinal cord in the cervical spine into the arm. These nerves supply feeling to areas of the skin from your shoulder down to your finger tips.
Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve in the neck is irritated as it leaves the spinal canal. Often called a “pinched nerve,” cervical radiculopathy is usually caused by a herniated disc or a bone spur that’s pressing against an inflamed nerve root.
In younger people, cervical radiculopathy tends to be the result of a herniated disc. In older people, pressure on nerve roots is usually due to normal degenerative changes in the discs.
When a nerve is irritated or pinched, it does not work properly. Although the problem is in the neck, the symptoms are felt wherever the nerve travels – in the shoulder, arm, or hand.
Symptoms may include muscle weakness; numbness or tingling in your fingers or hands; or pain that spreads into the arm, neck, chest, and/or shoulders. The pain may be deep and dull or sharp and shooting as it travels along the path of the nerve.
If possible, cervical radiculopathy can be treated with non-surgical methods such as physical therapy, pain medication, use of a cervical collar, or steroid injections, called nerve blocks.
If these methods don’t work, your doctor may recommend a common operation called an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Performed from the front (or anterior) of the neck, this surgery removes the disc or bone spur that’s pressing on the nerve and then connects two or more vertebrae together to stop motion at the painful area.