How Cervical Radiculopathy Causes Pain, Numbness, and Weakness

Pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling in your neck, shoulders, or arms can be caused by irritation of a nerve in your cervical spine. This is called radiculopathy.

See Could That Shoulder Pain Really Stem From the Neck?

Our Cervical Radiculopathy Interactive Video can help you understand these symptoms and the possible conditions that can cause them.

See What Causes Hand Pain and Numbness?

Cervical radiculopathy stillWhen spinal structures irritate the nerve roots in the neck, it can cause pain and other symptoms.
Cervical Radiculopathy Interactive Video

The anatomy of the neck

To understand how a nerve can become irritated, first consider the anatomy of your cervical spine.

Watch Cervical Spine Anatomy Video

It's made up of 7 vertebrae, divided by gelatinous discs, which hold up your skull and allow for movement of your neck and head.

See Cervical Discs

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Each level is numbered C1-C7. Small openings between each pair of vertebrae, where the nerves exit the spinal column, are called foramina.

See Spinal Cord and Spinal Nerve Roots

After the nerves pass through the foramina, they branch out to provide sensation and motor control throughout the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers on both sides of the body.

Diagnosing Cervical Radiculopathy vs. Other Causes of Hand Pain

Pain, numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness may be felt along the path of the nerve if the nerve roots are being compressed or irritated (radiculopathy).

Chronic Neck Pain: What Condition Is Causing My Neck Pain?

The conditions that can cause radiculopathy

Several conditions can cause cervical radiculopathy. One possible cause is a cervical degenerated disc, which occurs when the discs between the vertebrae thin out, causing the vertebrae to collapse, which in turn puts pressure on the surrounding nerve roots.

See What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Another possible cause is a cervical herniated disc, which can occur if disc material leaks out and irritates or compresses a nerve root.

See Diagnostic Tests for a Cervical Herniated Disc

Cervical spinal stenosis can also cause radiculopathy if the facet joints in the back of the neck degenerate and compress the nerve roots as they pass through the foramina.

See Cervical Stenosis with Myelopathy

Your symptoms will depend on the location of the nerve being affected. For example, symptoms at the base of the neck, the triceps, and the middle finger indicate that a nerve is being irritated at the C7 level.

See Neck Pain Symptoms

Moving your neck, turning and nodding your head, or leaning your head back may further aggravate your symptoms.

See Stiff Neck Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Most of the times, nonsurgical treatment can successfully treat the pain, and the other symptoms will usually go away with time. If this treatment does not work, surgical options may be considered.

See Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain

For more in depth information about your treatment options, start with Summary of Cervical Herniated Disc Treatment Options.

Learn more:

Diagnosing Neck Pain

Cervical Nerves

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