Often called a herniated or slipped disc, a cervical radiculopathy occurs when part or all of the spinal disc is forced through a portion of the disc that has been weakened, placing pressure on the surrounding nerves.
These discs, which are filled with a gelatinous substance, serve as cushions for the spinal column as well as acting as a spacer between the bones. When these became damaged or ruptured because of strain or trauma, the nerves compress, causing the characteristic pain, weakness and numbness associated with a herniation.
In the majority of cases it is the lower back that suffers most from cervical radiculopathy. The neck can also be affected to a much lesser extent. The mid and upper discs, known as thoracic discs, are rarely afflicted with cervical radiculopathy.
The symptoms of cervical radiculopathy can range from mild to severe and can include a dull ache, a burning or pulsating sensation or tingling. In the most severe cases the condition can lead to numbness to the point that you are unable to move.
The pain starts gradually, eventually getting worse. You’re most likely to feel the effects of cervical radiculopathy during the night, after standing or sitting for long periods of time, when sneezing or coughing or when you’re bending backwards, which places additional strain on the herniated area.
Confirming cervical radiculopathy requires a visit to the doctor who will perform a neurological evaluation to assess your reflexes, sensations and muscle strength. If a herniated disc is suspected, your doctor may administer a foraminal compression test. Additional diagnostic tests may include an x-ray of the spine, an MRI or CT scan, an EMG to determine which nerve root is affected and a nerve conduction velocity test.
The first course of treatment is the use of anti-inflammatory and pain management medications combined with some rest. This is usually followed by physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and correct issues with your posture. In the vast majority of cases, this will solve the problem.
If you are overweight your doctor may suggest you go on a diet and increase your level of exercise. Many back problems are due to excess body weight, which places additional strain on the vertebrae and discs, leading to compression and inflammation.
If the condition doesn’t clear up, you may be placed on steroid injections for a period of time to see if the medication can reduce the swelling and relieve the symptoms.
The last option is surgery to remove the disc and replace it with an artificial disc or a graft so new bone can grow in between the two vertebrae, fusing them together.