Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy

Xray image of arthritic spine.
Arthritis is one cause of cervical radiculopathy. CNRI/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy is an often debilitating spinal disease that causes pain and/or nerve defects due to the compression of one or more spinal nerve roots. 

Also known as a “pinched nerve” in your neck, cervical radiculopathy has several causes. Most of the time, though it is due to one of two things - either a disc herniation that compresses or irritates the spinal nerve root or degenerative changes in the spine that do the same thing.

  To learn more about these two causes of cervical radiculopathy, check out the following pages:

Other than disc herniation and spondylosis (degenerative changes in the spine,) less common causes of cervical radiculopathy include:  Synovial cysts, tumors, syovial, chondromatosis in the cervical facet joint, giant cell arteritis of the cervical radicular vessels and infection, according to Gerald Malanga, M.D., in his article entitled “Cervical Radiculopathy,” published on the Medscape website.

Cervical Radiculopathy Symptoms

The most common symptoms of cervical radiculopathy are pain and pins and needles (technically termed paresthesia.)  These occur only in what doctors call the “dermatomal distribution” of the affected nerve.  The term “dermatomal distribution” simply refers to the pathway that the nerve associated with the compressed spinal root takes.

  For example, if your C6 spinal nerve root is compressed, the pain pattern you’ll likely experience will be down the outside of your forearm (when your forearm is rotated so that your palm is up) and into your thumb and index finger.  This is because these are areas that the C6 spinal nerve services.

According to Caridi, Pumberger and Hughes in their 2011 review entitled, “Cervical Radiculopathy: A Review,” and published in the Hospital for Special Surgery Journal,  most of the symptoms experienced with cervical radiculopathy are sensory in nature; in other words, the pain, pins and needles (as well as electrical sensations) mentioned above. 

Symptoms of a motor nature, which may show up as weakness, are less common but do occur.  Caridi, Pumberger and Hughes say that no myotomes exist in the upper 4 spinal levels so you won’t find such symptoms in those distribution pathways.  By the way, a myotome is the movement counterpart to a dermatome; in other words, it’s a nerve that travels from the spinal nerve root out to places in the body.  The difference between a myotome and a dermatome is that the nerves in a myotomal distribution send signals that have to do with movement, rather than sensation.

Learn more about myotomes, and do the myotome dance:  Myotomes Definition.

Interestingly the symptoms associated with the C6 sensory nerve distribution (mentioned above) are often confused with carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.

  You and your doctor should be easily able to tell the difference between the two medical conditions, however, because the myotomal distribtion (again, referring to motor nerve, or movement, rather than sensation) of each is much different.  This distinction enables your doctor to gather information by performing tests for weakness.  Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the strength of your thumb, while cervical radiculopathy does not.

Source:

Caridi, John, M., M.D.,  Pumberger, Matthais, M.D. Hughes, Alexander, P., M.D.  Cervical Radiculopathy: A Review.  Hospital for Special Surgery Journal. 2011.

Malanga, G., M.D. Cervical Radiculopathy. Medscape website. Updated. Oct 2015. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/94118-overview

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