Cervical Radiculopathy: How Chiropractic & Cervical Decompression Can Help Provide Chronic Pain Relief
What Is Cervical Radiculopathy?
Before the twenty-first century, the movie theater screen was the only other screen that we would gravitate to. Now, just about every human being over the age of two is constantly staring at cell phones, tables, and laptops. This uprise in technology causes the average person to look down at these screens an average of 10-12 hours per day. At least then, when we all were staring at the movie screen, we were forced to look up and be in better posture. The newly created postures from looking down are creating more cases of cervical (or neck) related problems, a common one being cervical radiculopathy.
Cervical radiculopathy is when there is compression, pinching, irritation, or damage to the nerve root in the cervical spine creating symptoms that can travel down that damaged nerve, typically traveling down into the upper back, shoulders, arms, and down into the fingers. Not only can you feel pain, you can experience neurological symptoms and even have neurological deficits.
How Did I Get Pinched Nerves?
A number of things can be contributing to someone getting compression or pinching of the cervical nerve roots, leading to cervical radiculopathy.
- Bad posture over a long period of time leads to displacement or misalignment of the vertebrae in the spine called subluxations. Subluxations lead to degeneration of the cervical joints. Degeneration can come in the form of bone spurs and decreased disc height.
- Disc herniations can pinch nerves. Herniations are typically caused by either prolonged, abnormal disc pressure and/or sudden traumatic events like whiplash.
- Acute injuries that cause inflammation and swelling of the intervertebral disc referred to as discitis.
"I Don't Do Anything Crazy, Yet I Still Have Symptoms. How?"
Posture is one of the most common culprits that is causing neck issues, some of which is leading to cervical radiculopathy. Your posture is challenged through a wide range of your activities of daily living. From sleeping in the wrong positions, to working at a computer or other electronic devices, to styling hair or working a nursery and looking down at babies for hours and hours per day.
The majority of patients that come into our office work at a computer in an office setting. If you fit into this category then it is possible that you too are experiencing this postural work hazard that comes along with this type of job responsibility. Especially if a laptop is your primary source of work technology. This includes checking your phone for the most recent text message from your boo or best friend. After texting back, you then scroll through social media sites to see what else has been going on with other friends and family members, then reposting the new meme that's breaking the internet.
"What Symptoms Would I Feel?"
Having cervical radiculopathy typically means you are also experiencing some neck pain and headaches as well. Common neck symptoms will include tightness, achiness, tension but also symptoms of sharp or pinching pain in the neck from the nerve root being compressed. When the nerve root is compressed or damaged.
Neurological symptoms such as shooting, electrical pain, numbness, or tingling down one or both shoulders and arms. Neurological deficits can present as weakness, decreased reflexes, or other decreases in function to the upper extremities.
Is It Really Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common diagnosis mentioned with someone who has symptoms similar to those of cervical radiculopathy. I’ve listed a few similarities and differences of both to help you figure out which diagnosis better fits what you feel. (this is not meant to diagnose what you have, see a doctor for a diagnosis, this is simply for you to understand the difference between carpal tunnel syndrome and cervical radiculopathy).
- Both are caused by nerve compression that affects the arms/upper extremities.
- Both create symptoms of dull achy pain, numbness, tingling, weakness in the hands and fingers.
- Repetitive use of hands, wrist, arms such as typing, writing, gardening.
- Cervical radiculopathy is caused by pinching at the nerve root when exiting the spine at the neck. CTS is a pinch of one nerve (the median nerve) that derives from the nerve roots and is compressed in the wrist.
- Cervical radiculopathy is usually associated with shooting pain down the arm that can affect any region of the arm or hand. During CTS, symptoms affect the first three and a half fingers of the palm side of the hand. The pinky finger is spared.
- Cervical radiculopathy can have neck pain, but not always. With CTS, the palm side of the wrist is typically tender, inflamed, and/or swollen.
How Do I Know If It's Cervical Radiculopathy?
The best ways to diagnose cervical radiculopathy is with a detailed consultation and examination. Knowing the symptoms during the history portion of the consult, revealing positive findings such as the inability to differentiate sharp vs dull sensations, palpable tenderness in the neck, and decreased motor and/or reflexes will help key in on what the problem is. Imaging studies such as x-rays can reveal misaligned vertebrae and osteoarthritis. MRIs will show if disc herniations are present. CT scans can also reveal osteoarthritis. An EMG scan is a nerve test that will show how well the nerve is functioning.
Which Treatments Will Help Me Feel Better?
Chiropractic adjustments will help to realign vertebrae that are causing abnormal stress to the joints to improve joint function and mobility and to help reduce pain. Loss of spinal curvature is a factor in creating the problem in the first place.
Stretching and strengthening exercises will target the muscle and soft tissue issues such as spasms, muscle weakness, tightness, strain or tension.
Cryotherapy (ice) is also beneficial to calm the inflammation and irritated discs and tissue.
Cervical spinal decompression therapy creates space between the vertebra and can help restore the health of your discs.
PEMF therapy can aid in the speed of healing and decreases pain levels.
What Is Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF) and How Can It Help Me?
PEMF is a source of energy that helps the body repair and regenerate. It helps to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and stimulate tissue healing. With cervical radiculopathy, it will help the degenerative changes, inflammation of the discs and soft tissue, and reduce the irritation of the nerve compression.
How Can Spinal Decompression Help With Cervical Radiculopathy?
Spinal decompression will provide an axial lift to decompress the discs and bring pressure off the pinched nerve root. Spinal decompression is a safe and pain-free method to significantly reduce pain, reverse disc degeneration and can also eliminate further nerve damage. It is considered an effective non-surgical treatment to help relieve pain and other symptoms of cervical radiculopathy.
Do I Have To Have Surgery?
This always depends on the severity of your condition. If there is no relief of progression during the conservative treatments listed above, more aggressive options are available. In severe cases, injections and sometimes needed.
Having cervical radiculopathy doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of pain.
Let CORE Chiropractic help you get back on track with personalized chiropractic care, cervical spinal decompression and a custom treatment plan. Call today for your consultation, or schedule an appointment.