Nagging neck pain is, well, it’s a pain. The presence of persistent tension, aching, or shooting pain from the neck area can cause a lot of stress. You may wonder if you have a serious problem and, if so, what will be necessary to handle it. It may provide some peace of mind to know that it is not uncommon for head and neck pain to stem from a pinched nerve. The pinched nerve may be treated conservatively if you see a doctor right away.
What is a Pinched Nerve in Neck?
We use the term cervical radiculopathy to describe a pinched nerve in the neck because this is the cervical segment of the spine. To have a pinched nerve means that one or more nerves that exit this part of the spine are compressed or irritated. This is often caused by some type of change in one of the gel-like discs in between the bones (vertebrae) that form the spine. Discs are there as shock absorbers and also to hold open the necessary amount of space between bones so that nerves can pass through unobstructed. These small structures may be damaged by injury or may wear down over time.
Common causes of a pinched nerve in the neck include:
Aging affects every part of the body, including the spinal discs. Here, the problem is that discs may become dehydrated and may lose their shape. Discs that lack sufficient moisture and nutrients can become smaller. The outer fibrous tissue may fray. Discs can even collapse. Degeneration of a spinal disc can result in bone spurs, adding to the damage that is causing pain.
Any disc in the spine can become herniated. This term describes a condition in which the inner gel-like matter in a disc spills out through a small tear in the outer chamber. This tear could result from injury or degeneration. Irritation in this case stems from the gelatinous fluid touching a nearby nerve.
There are other reasons that a nerve may be compressed, but these are the two most common causes.
Symptoms of a pinched cervical nerve include:
- Persistent neck pain.
- Radiating pain from the neck to the shoulder or arm on one side of the body.
- Numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation in the neck, shoulder, or arm on one side of the body.
- Muscle weakness in the arm or hand of the affected side of the body.
- Change in reflexes in the elbow.
Often, a pinched nerve in the neck can be treated without surgery. It is important to see a doctor for a full examination and imaging, though. Treating pain alone could allow the underlying problem to worsen, ultimately being reparable only with a surgical procedure to replace a damaged disc.