Radiculopathy or radicular neck pain is not the same as referred pain as it is concerned with the nerve roots alone. Referred pain is a general term used to define pain experienced in one area that is initiated by irritation or damage to the nerve elsewhere along its path. For example, many suffer referred pain due to trigger points (these also differ from tender points as experienced by those suffering fibromyalgia). Radicular pain (radiculopathy) is a condition of the nerve root itself, at the point where the nerve exits the spine rather than further along the nerve in other parts of the body such as the arms or legs.
Cervical radiculopathy can occur in many forms with some suffering an acute burning sensation in the neck, chest, arm with neck pain, or fingers. Others may experience it as a constant dull ache, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. There may be numbness and possible weakness of the muscles in the arms, shoulders, and neck. Shooting pains may also occur on particular movements as the problematic nerve is put under further pressure in the cervical spine. Blood vessels may also be compressed, leading to dizziness in some patients as the circulation to the brain is compromised.
Pain from a damaged pinched nerve in the neck and back, or inflamed nerve roots is transmitted through the body via dermatomes (pathways). Conducting various neurological tests can ascertain the exact location in the vertebral spine of the compressed or damaged nerve as these nerves have specific dermatomes that will display a lack of sensation or the presence of pain. An electromyelogram, or simple pin-prick test may be able to isolate the vertebra where the problem is occurring. An x-ray, MRI or CT scan can also highlight stenosis of the spine which is responsible for the radicular pain.
Radiculopathy is often times precipitated by any of the following conditions:
- Cervical arthritis
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Bulging or Herniated Discs
- Cervical Facet Disease
- Meningitis with Spinal Cord Inflammation
Prompt treatment is very important to prevent possible long-term irreversible damage occurring to the pinched nerves.
Treatment for Radiculopathy
Those suffering from radiculopathy may find some relief in the form of analgesics and NSAIDs, along with alternative remedies such as fish oil, amongst others. If a herniated disc or severe spinal stenosis is causing persistent pressure on the nerve roots then surgical intervention may be considered necessary by the attending physician. This is usually a last recourse after more conservative treatment methods have been found wanting. Physical therapy such as gentle neck exercises and stretches, non-invasive traction, the use of devices for neck pain relief, and hot/cold compresses can relieve the pain sufficiently in some patients. Others may find that acupuncture or acupressure are effective. For others the radiculopathy, paraesthesia, weakness, numbness and general debility requires neck surgery to correct a structural fault.