Pinched Nerve in Neck: Causes, Symptoms and Exercises

What is a pinched nerve in the neck? Nerves are microscopically sized cells found in many places in your body. These nerves can receive signals from your brain and send them to the rest of your body. The human cervical spine consists of seven small bones that start at the skull base and extend to the shoulders.

When the nerves in the cervical spine are compressed or irritated, it can cause pain and numbness in the arm that runs down to the hand. Not just the neck, a pinched nerve can appear in various body parts. When it affects the neck, doctors call it cervical radiculopathy. This article explains what causes a pinched nerve, how to diagnose it, and when to see a doctor.

Pinched Nerve in Neck
Pinched Nerve in Neck: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

What does a pinched nerve in the neck feel like?

The most common symptom of a pinched nerve in the neck is neck pain, which usually radiates from the neck to the arm or hand. Sometimes you may experience numbness or needle-like tingling in your shoulders, arms, or hands.

This feeling may last from a few minutes to a few hours or a long time. In some cases, you may also lose strength in your hands or even your shoulders. Muscle weakness can make you fatigue more efficiently and unable to maintain your daily activities as you used to.

spine as known C1 to C7
spine as known C1 to C7

There are seven vertebrae in the cervical spine as known C1 to C7. Corresponding to it, there are eight pairs of nerve roots located between these vertebrae. ( C1 to C8). Different symptoms mean different nerve roots are affected.

  • A pinched nerve at C5 can cause deltoid weakness, pain, and numbness in the shoulder.
  • A pinched nerve at C6 can cause pain, wrist extensors, weakness of the biceps, and numbness that spread to the arm.
  • A pinched nerve at C7 can cause numbness and pain that spread to the arm or middle finger.
  • A pinched nerve at C8 can cause pain, numbness, and hand dysfunction that spread to the little fingers.

Usually, a pinched nerve in the neck heals on its own but can also become chronic. If symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck persist for more than four weeks, you need to contact your doctor as soon as possible. If left untreated, chronic pain and symptoms may worsen.

What Causes Pinched Nerves in Neck

Common causes of Pinched Nerves in the Neck include narrowing spinal space, disc degeneration, bone spurs, and disc herniation.

1. Herniated disks

One common cause of nerve compression is a herniated disk in your neck. When a spinal disc bulges out from its normal position, it can push on the nerves in your neck and shoulder.

The most common symptom of a herniated disc is pain in the neck. The pain may start out mild but gradually increases. It may feel like a burning or aching. You may also have pain in your shoulder, arm, or hand. Pain from nerve compression often starts slowly and may worsen as you move. If you have this type of pinched nerve pain, you may feel a tingling or numb sensation in your hands.

2. Disc Degeneration

According to the latest research, age-related disc degeneration is the leading cause of pinched nerves in the neck. As the disc degenerates, the foramen between the vertebrae gradually narrows. This can cause nerve compression.

3. Narrowing spinal space

There is not enough space in the vertebrae due to limiting the area inside the vertebrae. This can compress the nerves in the neck and cause pain.

4. Bone spurs

Bone spurs occur when calcium deposits build up on the surface of bones. They can form on any bone in the body but are most often found on the bones of the spine. Nerves that run through the neck are very sensitive, so even a minor increase in pressure can cause significant pain and discomfort. Bone growths can put pressure on nerves in the neck, which can then cause pain and tingling.

5. Spinal arthritis

Spinal arthritis can cause inflammation of the joints, which can pinch the nerves in your spine. This can cause pain and discomfort anywhere from your neck to your lower back. Pinched nerves can also cause tingling, numbness, or pain in your arms, hands, or fingers.

In addition, some exercise can exacerbate the symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck. These sports include diving, golf, and weightlifting.

Diagnosis of Pinched Nerve in Neck

Usually, your doctor will examine your neck, arms, hands, and shoulders. They will ask the patient to move their neck and arms to check where they feel the pain. There are some common tests include:

X-ray: An X-ray is an imaging test that can help doctors diagnose the alignment of the bones in your neck and spine. In addition, it can identify the foramen between the vertebrae and the narrowing of the disc space.

CT scan: CT scans can show bones in more detail than X-rays. It can help doctors spot bone spurs in the cervical spine.

MRI scan: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows soft tissue, vertebrae, and nerves in more detail than other scan types.

EMG scan: The electrospinal cord test measures the speed at which electrical impulses travel along the nerve. This can help doctors determine if the nerve is functioning correctly and where it is being compressed.

Treatment of pinched nerve in the neck
Treatment of pinched nerve in the neck

Nonsurgical treatment of pinched nerve in the neck

Pain from pinched nerves in the neck usually goes away within four weeks. However, sometimes symptoms will worsen, and surgery may be required. Fortunately, some home remedies can improve your symptoms. nonsurgical treatment

Physical therapy: Some physical therapy can help relieve pinched nerves in the neck and strengthen the flexibility of the neck muscles. This will help improve the range of motion and reduce pain.

Immobilization: A soft neck brace can help reduce the amount of neck movement and nerve root irritation. Also, this allows the neck muscles to relax. However, I do not recommend wearing a neck brace for more than two weeks as it can weaken the neck muscles.

Medication: Some NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, anesthetics, corticosteroids, and steroid injections, can help relieve pain and inflammation and improve symptoms.

Additionally, you can treat a pinched nerve in the neck at home by:

  • Using hot and cold therapy
  • Make sleeping adjustments
  • Rest
  • Take vitamins
  • Massage
  • Yoga

5 Best Exercises for a Pinched Nerve in the Neck(Cervical radiculopathy)

The best way to treat a pinched nerve is to prevent it from happening in the first place. One way to do this is by keeping your posture straight while sitting and sleeping. You can also ask for more support at work if you find yourself slouching over your desk all day long. If you’ve already developed this condition, there are some exercises that you can do to manage the pain.

1. Chin Tuck While Looking Down Exercise

This exercise will help tighten and lift your chin. Doing this exercise in front of a mirror is best to ensure you are doing it correctly.

Sit up tall in your chair or stand with your hands on your hips. Now slowly tuck your chin in towards your chest, as if you’re trying to touch your chin to your chest. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds and slowly release. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times daily.

2. Median Nerve Slider Exercise

This exercise stretches the median nerve to help reduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

To do this stretch, sit up tall in a chair with both feet on the floor. Place both hands on top of each other in front of your chest, fingertips facing up. Bend your thumbs towards each other until they touch. Next, open your palms up towards the ceiling. Hold this position for 10–20 seconds.

3. Supine Chin Tuck Exercise

This exercise stretches the median nerve to help reduce the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

To do this stretch, sit up tall in a chair with both feet on the floor. Place both hands on top of each other in front of your chest, fingertips facing up. Bend your thumbs towards each other until they touch. Next, open your palms up towards the ceiling. Hold this position for 10–20 seconds.

4. Standing Pull-Apart Exercise

This exercise works on your shoulder flexibility and mobility. It also tones your upper back, shoulders, and arms.

Keep a distance of about 3 feet between your knees and hands. Stand upright with feet hip-width apart. Then bend your knees and bring your hands together in front of your chest.

Keep your elbows wide and towards the ground. Start pulling your hands towards the top of your head and maintaining shoulder width. Then keep your elbows broad and towards the ground. Repeat this exercise for at least 5-7 seconds.

5. Ulnar Nerve Slider Exercise

The ulnar nerve runs behind your elbow. An overactive triceps muscle can press against the ulnar nerve, causing pain and numbness in your pinky and ring fingers. To prevent this from happening, you can perform this exercise. It trains your triceps to avoid pressing against the ulnar nerve.

To do the ulnar nerve slider, sit up tall with your back pressed against the edge of a chair. Place your right elbow on your right knee. Bend your left elbow towards your chest. Slowly slide your left elbow towards your left knee. Once you reach your knee, slide your left elbow back towards your right knee. Repeat these steps for 10 to 12 reps.

You can also do this exercise with a resistance band. Stand up tall with your feet about a hip distance apart. Hold the resistance band in front of you with both hands. Curl the resistance band towards your chest. Slowly slide the resistance band toward your knees. Once you reach your knees, slide the resistance band back toward your chest. Repeat these steps for 10 to 12 reps.

Surgical treatment of pinched nerve in the neck

If non-surgical treatment options don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery. Of course, your doctor will consider many factors, such as your age, symptoms, and medical history, to determine the best surgical option.

Typically, an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) goal is to remove the disc or bone spur that causes compression on the nerve. Artificial disc replacement (ADR) and posterior cervical foraminotomy can be used for compressed nerves in the neck.

When to See a doctor

Symptoms may go away independently in a few days, weeks, or months. However, medical attention is recommended if symptoms do not resolve after weeks or if any of the following symptoms occur.

  • Persistent fever or high fever
  • Stiff neck and inability to move
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss severe
  • Headache and vision problems
  • Severe mental state problems incontinence

These symptoms may indicate a more severe problem with the spine that may require further investigation and treatment. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor can recommend oral corticosteroids, steroid injections, or surgery.

Conclusion

A pinched nerve in the neck usually goes away within a few days or weeks. Most people get better within four weeks and don’t need surgery. However, symptoms may not improve in severe cases, and people may need more effective treatment or surgery. Before surgery, people can try many nonsurgical treatments, such as rest, massage, medication, and light neck exercises.

These exercises can provide relief, helping to decompress nerves and loosen tight muscles. However, stop immediately and consult your doctor if you experience pain or discomfort while doing these stretches.

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