Cervical radiculopathy causes pain in the neck and other parts of the body. Fortunately, there are non-drug treatments available, including chiropractic.
What is Cervical Radiculopathy?
A condition that irritates nerves in the neck, or cervical spine, causing neurological symptoms and pain is called cervical radiculopathy. This can include a pinched nerve in the neck. Inflammation and compression cause pain, and the symptoms resulting radiate to the hand and arm. Sometimes this condition is called radicular pain. There are many causes of cervical radiculopathy, including degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, a pinched nerve, or a herniated disc. Depending on which nerve is affected, medical professionals may name the disorder for that particular nerve. C5 radiculopathy involves weakness or pain in the upper arms or shoulders. C6 radiculopathy, a common problem, causes issues along the arms, wrists, index finger, and thumb. The most typical cervical radiculopathy is C7, which results in weakness and pain from the neck to the hand, including the middle finger. C8 radiculopathy “causes pain from the neck to the hand”, leading to hand grip weakness, numbness, and pain from the inner arm to the fingers.1 Another condition patients may experience in the neck is the progressive disorder called cervical stenosis. In this situation, the spinal cord is pinched in the neck. If spinal stenosis is the cause of this compression, it is called “cervical myelopathy”.2 Note, radiculopathy is not just a concern for the cervical region. Some patients may have lumbar radiculopathy, for example, with is caused by “compression, inflammation …or injury to a spinal nerve…in the low back”.3
Treatment Options for Cervical Radiculopathy
Treatments for cervical radiculopathy range from the conservative to the invasive. Initially, patients are often treated for the inflammation and pain with NSAID medications, icing, rest, and possibly traction. Some patients may benefit from a cervical collar, while others may be prescribed steroids. If no treatment options work, patients might be referred for surgery, but “there is not clear evidence that surgical treatment…provides better long-term outcomes”. Certain patients have benefited from “pulsed radiofrequency treatment of the cervical dorsal root ganglion”, and others have had success with acupuncture.4 Another beneficial treatment alternative to medications and surgery is chiropractic care. In a case study of a 60-year-old woman, whose cervical radiculopathy was caused by a herniated disc, “chiropractic manipulative therapy, longitudinal cervical traction and interferential therapy” were provided. Three weeks later, the pain in the shoulder and neck were resolved, and the “pain, numbness and grip strength returned to normal within 5 months”.5 A recent retrospective study showed promise for flexion distraction and “other manual therapy techniques” for cervical radiculopathy.6