Overview of pinched nerve
A pinched nerve in the neck is called cervical radiculopathy. Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve root becomes compressed or irritated, even for a very brief moment. A nerve root is an area where a nerve branches off of the spinal cord and exits between two vertebrae (spinal bones). There are eight nerve roots in your neck. They control muscles and therefore affect feeling in different areas of your upper body and arms.
While a pinched nerve isn't life-threatening, it can cause problems with daily living and potentially permanent nerve damage. It's essential to see a doctor for proper diagnosis.
At Dignity Health, we understand how the pain from a pinched nerve can affect your day-to-day life. Find an orthopedist near you to receive high-quality, personalized care for your pinched nerve and any other neck conditions and injuries.
The classic symptom of a pinched nerve in the neck is neck pain that radiates or travels down your shoulder or arm. The specific area of pain will depend on the area that the affected cervical nerve supplies.
Other signs and symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness in the same area of the shoulder, arm, or hand.
There are two main causes of a pinched nerve in the neck. They both have to do with spinal discs. Spinal discs are "cushions" located between the vertebral bones of the spine that allow the spine to bend and flex.
The first cause is degenerative disc disease, which tends to occur as you age. The discs start to shrink and become more rigid, which reduces spinal flexibility and narrows the nerve root space in the spinal cord. That puts pressure on the nerves.
The second cause is a slipped, herniated, or ruptured spinal disc. The gel-like center of the disc may start coming out, which can pinch off a nerve. This is the most common cause of pinched nerve in younger people.
A pinched nerve typically refers to a compressed or inflamed nerve in your neck. This can be caused by a slipped or herniated disc, age-related conditions like osteoarthritis, or an injury.
Pinched nerves can also be categorized by the location of symptoms:
- Cervical radiculopathy is based in the neck (or “cervical spine”), and causes numbness, pain, or weakness in the arm
- Lumbar radiculopathy occurs in the lower back (“lumbar spine”), and causes numbness, pain, or weakness in the leg
Some of the factors that increase the risk of pinched nerve are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Female sex
- Thyroid disease
- Bone spurs
- Working a job or playing a sport that requires repetitive motion, such as painting, assembly line work, or factory work
- Pregnancy-related weight changes
- Prolonged periods of bed rest
- Office work or hobbies that require small repetitive movements of the hands, arms, or head
You can reduce your risk of cervical disc problems and help prevent pinched nerves by:
- Taking frequent breaks during activity
- Maintaining good posture and keeping your head in line with your shoulders and hips, whether you are standing or sitting
- Using proper body mechanics while lifting, including by keeping a flat back and “lifting with your legs”
- Strengthening your neck, shoulder, and back muscles, which will also help with good posture
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Resting when you feel pain and not “pushing through” an injury
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.