Cervical radiculopathy is a term to describe compression or irritation of the nerves that supply the arm. When these nerves are compressed or irritated they cause pain and feelings of numbness and tingling down the arm and occasionally into the hand. Occasionally there is no neck pain associated with this condition and only arm or hand symptoms. Movement of the neck will reproduce the arm/hand symptoms in this case. The pain from this can be excruciating due to the involvement of the nerve. In more severe cases, significant weakness and/or numbness in the shoulder, arm or hand may occur.
The cause of radiating symptoms in the arm or hand from the neck is due to the compression or irritation of the nerve that supplies the arm and hand. These nerves begin in the neck and can be compressed by a ruptured or herniated disc, bone spurs or an irritated facet joint. This can occur from normal wear and tear, degenerative or arthritic changes, or from acute traumatic activities such as athletics or a whiplash type injury. Areas of stiffness above or below the problem area frequently lead to abnormal stress at the level of the nerve involvement.
A course of manual therapy in conjunction with mechanical or manual traction is found to be the most relieving and effective treatment for this condition. As the pressure begins to reduce on the nerve, treatment to the associated areas of muscle spasm and joint stiffness frequently helps reduce the remaining symptoms. As in all cases, the underlying muscle weakness and tightness is addressed with a specific exercise program to help reduce the likelihood of this condition returning. Exercise training to assist in returning to normal activity is the primary goal. Modalities such as ice and electrical stimulation are utilized to reduce the acute inflammation and pain as well.