What is radiculopathy?

Radiculopathy is the medical term for a pinched nerve caused by a mechanical compression of the nerve. Cervical radiculopathy is a pinched or irritated cranial nerve root in the neck. A cranial nerve root is the segment of the nerve that leaves the brain stem or the highest level of the spinal cord. A spinal nerve root is the segment of a nerve that leaves the spinal cord and innervates a part of the lower body. Lumbar sacral spine nerve impingement in the low back can cause sciatica.

What are the symptoms of cervical radiculopathy?

Pain that radiates into the shoulder, muscle weakness, and tingling and numbness down the arm and into the hand and mechanical dysfunction. In addition, there may be neurological defects. In the worst case, damage to a nerve root can cause paralysis.

What causes cervical radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy is usually caused by degenerative changes in the spine due to aging. Degenerative changes in the discs are called arthritis or spondylosis. This is normal with age. Studies report that almost 50% of people who are middle aged and older have worn discs and pinched nerves that do not cause painful symptoms!

As we age, the discs lose water and we lose height. The disc space collapses causing the vertebrae to rub together.  The body responds by creating bone spurs to support the disc. But this causes the spine to stiffen and narrows the opening for the nerve roots to exit from the spine. The result is a pinched nerve.

A herniated disc can cause a pinched nerve. Herniation occurs when the jelly – like disc core pushes out of a tear in the outer cover of the disc. The contents bulge into the spinal canal and compresses the nerve root, resulting in pain and weakness to the areas that are supplied with the affected nerve root.

But in young people it may be due to a sudden injury that causes a disc to herniate and push into the spinal cord space and pinch the cord, or a nerve root.


Painful neck movements radiating from arm or leg pain, muscle spasms, and diminished reflexes.


Your Ortho Illinois orthopedic surgeon will discuss with you your medical history and symptoms. They will conduct a physical exam on your neck, shoulders, arms and hands looking for weakness, loss of sensation and changes in your reflexes.

Imaging tests may be ordered to view the alignment of your vertebrae and visualize disc damage and narrowing of the opening for the nerve roots. Nerve conduction studies and electrodiagnostic testing may be ordered to when there is peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling).


Treatment depends on the state of the affected nerve, and the presence or absence of bone spurs and herniated discs.

Initial treatment with conservative measures includes rest to allow the muscles to relax and to limit neck movement, physical therapy to relieve pain and improve range of motion and build neck muscles, traction, massage and over the counter pain medication, and muscle relaxants. In many cases conservative treatment can relieve pain and most patients will improve over time without treatment. But it is common for a pinched nerve to return in the future. Steroid injections may be used to reduce inflammation which will reduce pain and swelling.

When the radiculopathy does not improve on its own, there will be a complete evaluation of the condition and treatment, and surgery may be recommended.

At Ortho Illinois we offer science-based protocols that emphasize the best non-surgical treatment options to restore function and avoid surgery. When surgery is unavoidable our fellowship trained spine specialists Drs. Braaksma, StanleyBroderick and Alexander have the skills, training and experience to address herniated discs.

Ortho Illinois is a Regional Spine Care Center with offices in RockfordAlgonquin, and Elgin, Illinois. Call us and schedule consultation to get an accurate diagnosis and the least invasive, least aggressive options to relieve your pain.