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Pinched nerve (cervical radiculopathy)

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What is a Pinched Nerve?

Cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve) is a condition where a nerve is irritated or compressed as it passes through the tunnel made by two adjacent vertebrae in its path to the arm. The nerve is often irritated by inflammation from neighbouring joints or the disc.

You may experience the following if you have a truly pinched nerve:

  • Pain in neck and shoulder region but worse in arm
  • Feeling pins and needles in fingers or parts of the arm
  • Numbness in tip of thumb or one or two fingers.
  • Muscles in the arm or hand may become weak
  • Symptoms are quite severe
  • May be difficult to find positions of relief
  • May be difficult to sleep

How do I know if I have cervical radiculopathy?

You may have Cervical Radiculopathy if you experience the following:

  • Severe ‘nerve pain’ in the arm
  • Shooting, or burning type pain that is difficult to obtain relief from.

To diagnosis Cervical Radiculopathy it will need to be considered the nature of pain and other symptoms and an examination of the neck and neurological examination. Imaging such as X-ray and MRI can help confirm diagnosis.  

How can treatment methods used by physiotherapists help cervical radiculopathy?

Acute phase

To treat Cervical Radiculopathy in the acute stage (First 6 weeks) it is possible to have a combination of pain-relieving medication for nerve pain prescribed by your GP, gentle physiotherapy and rest. Manual therapy and other techniques from your physiotherapist will be best. Education about pain will be explained, as well as instruction on best sleeping and working positions and how to care for the neck.

Subacute phase

Once the severe pain has reduced with medication and gentle physiotherapy, your physiotherapist will progress treatment to include manual therapy to gently mobilise both the joints and nerves of the neck to further decrease residual pain. Mild exercises may be added to your personal plan to help nerves move normally with day-to-day movement of the arms, and to ensure return of good control of your neck by the neck muscles. Education may be used to help ensure the injury will not reoccur.

Persistent phase

Some people may an irregular and lesser pain in the arm which can persist for several weeks or even months in which your physiotherapist will need to use manual therapy and education about pain, self-care methods and lifestyle features. A comprehensive exercise program will also be implemented to manage the condition.  If physiotherapy is not helping your condition it may be suggested to have surgery.

What can I do at home?

It is important that you understand the advice your physiotherapist. If you have severe arm pain, you will need to find a comfortable position for your arm and neck to ease the pain, rest may also be helpful. You may decide to use different heights and types of pillows to support your arm. Your GP will be able to help you with pain medication if you have trouble sleeping.  You may be able to relief pain by sitting tall and undertaking a few repetitions of an exercise, in which you gently draw your chin back, do not complete this exercise if it causes more pain. Complete exercises as prescribed by your physiotherapist.

How long will my recovery be?

Your recovery time will depend on the condition it may range from several weeks to several months. Other people may take up to a year or even two for all symptoms to go away. It is important during these times to follow the instructions of your GP and physiotherapist.

If you would like to find out more please call us or book an appointment here.

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Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.