Cervical radiculopathy, also known as a pinched nerve, is a common problem. If you're affected by this condition, you may experience symptoms such as pins and needles, neck pain, arm pain or weakness. But what causes pins and needles? How is this problem managed? And is there anything you can do at home or at work to help? Knowing more about cervical radiculopathy is the first step toward dealing with the issue and preventing it from getting worse.
What Causes Pins and Needles?
Your spine is made up of 24 separate bones, called vertebrae. The top seven vertebrae, which run from the base of your skull to the top of your shoulders, are the cervical spine. Cervical radiculopathy occurs due to the compression or irritation of one of the nerves in your cervical spine. In most cases, this damage results from degenerative changes to the spinal column over time. However, it is possible for younger people to have this problem, especially if a spinal injury causes complications like herniated discs.
Symptoms of a pinched nerve occur as a result of damage to the nerve where it exits your spinal column. Your symptoms may include:
- Loss of sensation in one arm or hand.
- Pain, especially when turning your head or straining your neck.
- Pins and needles in your arm, hand or fingers.
- Weakness in your shoulder, arm or hand.
Treating Your Symptoms
Your doctor diagnoses cervical radiculopathy based on a complete physical examination and a discussion of your symptoms and health history. If necessary, certain diagnostic tests may be completed to rule out other issues.
For many, the symptoms caused by this condition get better on their own. But there are also several nonsurgical treatments you can try at home or in the office to help manage your symptoms. Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often effective in controlling pain. Others, such as oral corticosteroids, help lower inflammation around the pinched nerve. If necessary, you may need to wear a soft cervical collar. This device limits how much you can move your neck and allows your neck muscles to rest.
For more serious cases, surgery may be necessary to alleviate severe numbness, weakness or the pins and needles feeling you may experience. The type of neck surgery your doctor may recommend depends on the severity of your symptoms and the location of the nerve involved.
If you've had symptoms of cervical radiculopathy, it's possible for them to return again in the future. But you can take steps to help stop this from occurring. Be sure to maintain proper posture while driving and working, especially if you sit for most of your day. If you feel symptoms returning, try resting or changing your activities to limit strain on your neck.
Certain exercises to stretch and strengthen your neck can also be helpful in avoiding future problems. Depending on how serious your symptoms are, a physical therapist may need to help you create a neck exercise plan that's right for you.
When to See Your Doctor
If you have symptoms of a pinched nerve that don't get better over time — or actually get worse — it's time to see your doctor. They are the best person to help you rule out other issues and avoid more serious complications.
Many people effectively manage their symptoms at home or at work. But while many cases of cervical radiculopathy can be treated without surgery, it's still important to know when to see your doctor. Taking steps to prevent flare-ups of this condition can be effective, but you may still need professional medical treatment if your symptoms get worse or don't go away.