Pinched Nerve In Neck


Pinched nerve in neck can cause pain, stiffness and even very annoying conditions. This can be distressful since movement in the neck and other parts of the body such as arms, back and legs are affected. Pinched nerve in neck will heal naturally if it is of mild nature, but if it is more severe, the treatment could be surgery. This condition is far more complicated than other pinched nerves which include the wrists and elbows as the nerves usually damaged are within the cervical spine.

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Cervical Spine and Cervical Disc

The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae in the spine. The rest of the vertebrae are located in the thoracic, lumbar, sacrum and coccyx in the spinal column. The cervical spine begins at the lower part of the skull and culminates at the roof the thoracic spine. It forms a shape like a backward letter C. It is more mobile and flexible than the thoracic and lumbar spinal regions. The cervical spine has many functions as it protects the nerves in the cervical region, supports the head and allows it to move in different directions. In between each of the vertebrae there is a flat plate known as a disc. It is a tough fibrous pad that acts as cushion in the cervical spine allowing the neck to manage stress. If the disc cracks open due to some conditions such as weakening due to age, injury or trauma, it will release a jelly like substance called nucleus pulposus which may compress the nerve in that area.

Causes of Pinched Nerve In Neck

Pinched nerve in neck occurs when there is compression of the nerves in the cervical spine which is due to degenerative changes in the structure of the cervical disc resulting in cervical herniated disc, bone spurs and cervical spinal stenosis. Cervical herniated disc occurs when the disc cracks open allowing the nucleus pulposus to break away. The nucleus pulposus is jelly-like substance that is enclosed within the disc and serves as a carrier of compressed loads. Due to age factor, the liquid content inside the disc decreases and tiny cracks begin to develop from the outside layer. After a period of time, the disc starts to degenerate and the space decreases between the vertebrae causing the possibility of contact with nerves in the cervical spine.

Bone spurs, also known as Ostheocyte, occurs when there is abnormal growth of bone due to vertebral fracture or narrowing of the spinal canal. It builds up after the occurrence of cervical osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease of the joints in the cervical spine, resulting in pinched nerve in neck. Herniated disc and bone spurs can lead to cervical spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal in the cervical spine which is most commonly experienced by elderly people. Cervical spinal stenosis, also known as cervical foraminal stenosis, gradually progresses with age which eventually pinches the nerve in the neck. As the cervical spine becomes narrow, there is also compression. The compression of cervical spine is known as cervical myelopathy. Cervical spinal stenosis which usually happens to people at age over 50 is also an inborn condition. The other cause of pinched nerve in neck which is cervical subluxation is not a degenerative condition of the cervical disc but a misalignment of the neck’s vertebra which can be due to trauma, injuries in sports, falling, bad posture and poor lifting techniques.

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Symptoms of Pinched Nerve In Neck

When there is pinched nerve in neck, a myriad of symptoms occur depending on the cause of compression. In cervical herniated discs, symptoms are much more similar to carpal and cubital tunnel syndrome. Pain is basically felt in the neck and radiates along the nerve pathway down the arms. Numbness, muscle weakness, tingling and burning sensation is also felt from the neck down to the shoulders, arms and into the fingertips. Pain in the arms due to herniated disc is a common pinched nerve in neck symptom. This happens because the nucleus pulposus squeezes the cervical nerve producing pain which is then transmitted along the nerve pathway down to the arms. Herniated disc also causes cervical spinal stenosis which can result into spinal cord compression or cervical myelopathy which is a very serious condition and needs swift diagnosis and medical treatment to prevent further aggravation like disability. Symptoms in cervical spinal stenosis include back pain, awkward gait, paralysis of limbs, motor skills deterioration such as problems with writing, Hyperreflexia, urinary retention and occasional sharp pains in arms and legs when head is bent forward.

In bone spurs, neurological symptoms with pinched nerve in neck arises such as pain in the neck, shoulders and back; pain, tingling, numbness and burning sensation in the arms or legs; and weakening of muscles in shoulders, arms and legs. The symptoms become worse when there is activity and gradually improve while at rest. Symptoms in cervical subluxation are neck pain, numbness, migraines, tingling, insomnia, arm pain, stiff neck, bursitis and muscular weakness in the shoulders, arms and legs.

Pinched Nerve in Neck Diagnosis

During diagnosis, the doctor will examine the patient’s medical background as a way to determine the initial condition. The doctor will also ask the patient several questions regarding the symptoms. The doctor will then conduct several tests depending on the symptoms the patient has experienced. The tests may include physical examination, electromyography (EMG) tests, nerve conduction tests, X-ray, Computerized tomography (CT) scan and MRI. With these tests the doctor will be able to determine the real cause of the symptoms and will recommend possible treatments for the patient.

Pinched Nerve in Neck Treatment

Mild cases of pinched nerve in neck can heal naturally with proper rest, medications such as pain relievers, rehabilitation therapy and injections. But if the condition is severe, the doctor will recommend surgery such as surgical decompression which is done in two procedures, Microdiscectomy and Laminectomy. Microdiscectomy is a surgical procedure in which a small portion of the herniated nucleus pulposus is removed with a laser or surgical instrument with the use of a microscope. Laminectomy is a surgical procedure wherein a small part of the vertebral arch is removed. Spinal fusion, a surgical procedure done mostly for lumbar spine problems, can also be used to treat cervical spine problems.

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