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.
Our Cervical Radiculopathy Interactive Video can help you understand these symptoms and the possible conditions that can cause them.
Watch: 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.
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
Each level is numbered C1-C7. Small openings between each pair of vertebrae, where the nerves exit the spinal column, are called foramina.
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.
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).
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.
Another possible cause is a cervical herniated disc, which can occur if disc material leaks out and irritates or compresses a nerve root.
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.
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.
Moving your neck, turning and nodding your head, or leaning your head back may further aggravate your symptoms.
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.
For more in depth information about your treatment options, start with Summary of Cervical Herniated Disc Treatment Options.