Cervical radiculopathy is the term used to describe radiating nerve pain that begins in the neck region and runs down the shoulder, arm, forearm and into the hand and is associated with a neurologic deficit such as numbness or weakness. The term radiculitis indicates that there is only pain, without associated numbness or weakness, shooting down the arm into the hand and fingers. Although radiculopathy and radiculitis can be used to describe the above-mentioned signs and symptoms in the arms or legs, many people often used the term sciatica when referring to lower extremity and back problems.
How is it diagnosed?
The diagnosis of radiculopathy is typically made by taking a detailed patient history alone. Physical examination can further clarify the diagnosis. However, an MRI of the cervical spine will often be required to confirm the actual cause of the radicular pain. It is important for the clinician to conduct a thorough history and clinical examination prior to formulating the final diagnosis so as not to misdiagnose this condition.
What are the treatment options?
The natural history of a cervical herniated disc and radiculopathy is favorable meaning that the majority of patients improve with conservative treatments and do not require surgery. Quite often, patients with cervical radiculopathy will quickly improve with a few days of rest, use of a soft cervical collar, oral anti-inflammatory medications and pain medications. Muscle relaxant medications can also be used for severe pain and muscle spasms. Cervical epidural steroid injections and/or nerve root blocks may also be utilized for severe pain or moderate pain that is no longer responding to other conservative measures. Surgical options, such as anterior cervical discectomy and fusion or microscopic posterior cervical foraminotomy may be recommended for patients who do not benefit from conservative treatments.