Pain, tingling, and numbness are some of the most common symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck. The following write-up provides information on the symptoms of a compressed nerve and the circumstances under which one or more nerves in the neck region may get compressed.
The term ‘nerves’ refers to the bundles of fibers that conduct sensory and motor impulses between the brain and other parts of the body. They are categorized into sensory, motor, and autonomic nerves. The nerve roots in the spinal cord could get pinched or compressed if the surrounding bones, tendons, muscles, and cartilage exert pressure on them. Cervical radiculopathy refers to a condition wherein the compression of a nerve root in the cervical spine causes symptoms such as pain or numbness along the course of the nerve. While pain is often felt in the neck, it may also radiate to the adjoining areas such as the shoulders, arms, and upper or lower back.
Symptoms Associated with Pinched Nerves in the Neck
- Pain is usually one of the most common symptoms of a compressed nerve in the neck.
- Mild numbness, tingling, or burning sensation in the adjoining areas like shoulder, arms, and fingers may be experienced by the affected individuals.
- Affected individuals may experience muscle spasms in adjoining areas.
- Cervicobrachial syndrome refers to a condition wherein pinched nerves in the neck cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, weakness, and swelling in the neck. The pain usually gets referred to the upper limbs.
- The affected individual could experience headaches in the back region of head (the occipital region) or the temples.
- The occipital headaches could cause pain in areas behind the eyes.
- There may be a delayed reflex response or a feeling of weakness in muscles.
- The symptoms could worsen due to sudden jerky movements like coughing, sneezing, etc.
Arthritis of the Neck: Also known as cervical spondylosis, arthritis of the neck is a joint condition wherein the bones in the cervical spine degenerate over time. This condition could result from wear and tear of the joints due to osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease that is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints. This disease could also lead to the formation of osteophytes or bone spurs, that may compress a nerve root in the cervical spine.
Degenerative Disc Disease: Mostly seen in the elderly, the degenerative disc disease is characterized by the degeneration of the intervertebral discs that separate the bones of the spine. The disc has a hard outer coating (annulus), and within the tough exterior lies a jelly-like material (nucleus pulposus). These discs act like shock absorbers. As we age, these discs could either dry up or their outer coverings might weaken due to continuous wear and tear. As these discs dry up, the bones of the spine could come closer to each other. Under such circumstances, the nerves located in this region could become trapped.
Herniated Disc: Often referred to as slipped disc, a herniated disc is a medical condition wherein the gelatinous material within the disc comes out through a tear in the hard outer wall of the intervertebral disc. A herniated disc can compress the surrounding nerves, thereby causing symptoms such as pain, soreness, tingling, numbness, etc.
Whiplash Injury: A whiplash injury refers to a neck injury that occurs when the neck suddenly moves backward and then forward due to a sudden jerk. Such an injury can cause damage to the cervical vertebrae, leading to a pinched nerve in the neck.
Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis is a medical condition that is characterized by the narrowing of the spinal canal or the neural foramina, which are the openings from which the nerves leave the spine. The spinal nerves could get compressed if the foramina become constricted. This condition may be caused due to arthritis, herniated disc, presence of a tumor in the spine, or an injury that puts pressure on the spinal cord.
If the pain is severe, the use of painkillers, muscle relaxants, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs might be recommended.
- Massage therapy and application of heating pads or ice packs may help to bring down inflammation.
- Doctors don’t suggest the continuous use of a cervical collar, but it can be used as per doctor’s advice to restrict the movement of the neck in some cases.
- Impingement of nerves in the cervical spine may occur due to neck arthritis or bone spurs in cervical spine. These conditions may restrict the range of motion of the neck. Physical therapy can certainly prove beneficial in such cases. Performing exercises can help to strengthen the neck muscles and restore the range of motion.
- Alternative therapies such as acupressure, acupuncture, and aromatherapy may also help to provide relief.
- The administration of steroids and anesthetic agents into the epidural space of the spinal cord is recommended when a nerve in the cervical spine is compressed by a herniated disc.
- Surgery is resorted to only if the other treatment options have not been able to provide relief from pain.
The symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck can be alleviated by following the non-surgical treatment options. Though the symptoms may sometimes resolve on their own, do seek medical help if pain and numbness persists, and home remedies don’t provide relief.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.