Cervical radiculopathy is a condition where a herniated disc or an arthritic bone spur compresses a nerve root in the cervical spine. This results in neurological deficits, like tingling, numbness, or pain radiating into the arm, or motor dysfunction in the upper extremities.
There are eight cervical nerve roots within the seven cervical vertebrae. Each nerve travels into the arm and shoulder, providing sensations as well as electrical signals to the muscles that allow for certain movements. When one of these nerves becomes pinched, compressed, or irritated, it prevents the nerve from working as it should. It affects sensations by causing pain and tingling, and can mess with the motor functions.
Radiculopathy can happen at any point along the spine. Although cervical radiculopathy is not the most common, it’s still something athletes should be aware of.
Cervical radiculopathy can happen at any age, with the highest occurrence between ages 40-50. For older patients, spondylosis is the more common mechanism of injury. This is where degenerative changes lead to bony spurs that put pressure on the nerve endings.
For athletes and younger people in general, the more common cause of cervical radiculopathy is a herniated disc. This is usually what we see at MOTUS when we’re dealing with radiculopathy,
and we have had tons of experience in helping athletes through this type of injury. With a herniated disc, an cervical disc becomes damaged and loses its thickness and padding, thereby putting pressure onto the nearby nerve endings.
We can usually spot cervical radiculopathy in a patient by neck pain accompanied with radiating arm pain, muscle weakness, and reflex impairment. There are a lot of potential side effects, many of which aren’t directly connected to the neck. These could easily be mistaken for other diagnoses, but by applying our vast experience to a careful examination and knowledge from patient history, we are able to properly diagnose cervical radiculopathy.
When we treat cervical radiculopathy, we start by addressing the pain and discomfort, then doing what it takes to prevent reinjury. Doing so requires identifying the cause of compression. Your particular treatment plan will depend on the mechanisms of your injury, as well as your detailed history. Exercise therapy and manual therapy can both help with cervical radiculopathy, but patient education is just as important. We want to teach all of our patients how they can train their body and brain to work together as a single entity to protect from injuries in the future.