Cervical radiculopathy symptoms typically include pain, weakness, or numbness in the areas served by the affected nerve. Pain can be felt in one area only, like the shoulder, or progress along the entire arm and into the hand and fingers.
The type of pain also can vary. Some patients describe a dull, general pain. However, others describe the pain as severe burning, sharp, or knife-like.
Patients may feel pins-and-needles tingling, which can also be accompanied by numbness. Experiencing numbness or weakness in the hand can also affect the ability to grip or lift objects, as well as to perform other daily tasks such as writing, typing, or getting dressed.
Certain neck movements, such as bending the neck back, side to side, or rotating it, may increase the pain. Some patients report that pain decreases when they place a hand behind their head; the movement may be relieving the pressure and traction on the nerve root, which in turn lessens their symptoms.
Types of Cervical Radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy symptoms differ depending on which nerve is affected. For example, C6 radiculopathy occurs when the nerve root that runs above the C6 vertebra is affected.
See Cervical Nerves
While any patient's specific symptoms can vary widely, the following are common descriptions for the types and symptoms of cervical radiculopathy:
- C5 radiculopathy can cause pain and/or weakness in the shoulders and upper arms. It especially may cause discomfort around the shoulder blades but rarely causes numbness or tingling.
- C6 radiculopathy (one of the most common) causes pain and/or weakness along the length of the arm, including the biceps (the muscles in front of the upper arms), wrists, and the thumb and index finger.
- C7 radiculopathy (the most common) causes pain and/or weakness from the neck to the hand and can include the triceps (the muscles on the back of the upper arms) and the middle finger.
- C8 radiculopathy causes pain from the neck to the hand. Patients may experience weakness in hand grip, and pain and numbness can radiate along the inner side of the arm, ring, and little fingers.
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It is also possible to have multiple symptoms stemming from nerve compression and/or inflammation at multiple levels of the cervical spine.
Sometime symptoms flare up with certain activities, such as bending the neck forward to peer at a mobile phone or laptop screen for long periods, and will resolve when the neck is supported and at rest.
For others, symptoms may become persistent and do not resolve when the neck is in a supported, resting position.