Few people enjoy being pinched, and enduring a pinched nerve in the neck is no exception.
But how can you tell if you’ve got a pinched neck nerve and what can you do to ease symptoms? Fortunately, diagnosing and treating pinched nerves in your neck is a straightforward process, according to Kaliq Chang, MD, an interventional pain management specialist of the Atlantic Spine Center.
Pinched nerves can happen at several places on your body. The neck, which is also called the cervical spine, houses seven bony vertebrae. Nerve roots stem from each side of the cervical spine lead to your upper body including the arms and hands. When these nerves are compressed, too much pressure is being applied by surrounding tissues including bones, cartilage, muscles, and tendons, also known as cervical radiculopathy – a pinched nerve.
The resulting symptoms can last a short or long while, be minor or severe, or anything in-between.
“Pinched nerves in the neck often trigger pain, numbness, weakness or tingling in the arms and hands,”
… explains Dr. Chang. “When they’re severe, these symptoms can definitely cut into your enjoyment of everyday life and make certain tasks hard to do.”
Causes and risk factors
Sometimes we can control the risk factors that can lead to a pinched neck nerve, and sometimes we can’t. But certain physical or other characteristics raise the chances that you’ll be stricken with a pinched nerve. According to Dr. Chang, they include:
- Overweight or obesity
- Family history
- Jobs that require repetitive movements
Risk factors are one thing, but some habits and conditions can directly cause pinched nerves in the neck, Dr. Chang notes. These include:
- Poor posture
- Holding your neck in one position for long periods
- Bone spurs in your cervical spine
- Bulging or herniated discs in your neck vertebrae
“It’s smart to do whatever we can to prevent pinched nerves in our neck, even if prevention isn’t always possible,”
Dr. Chang says. “Controlling your weight, maintaining good posture, and limiting repetitive movements gives you the best odds of skirting this problem.”
Diagnosis and treatment options
Pinched nerves in the neck and elsewhere typically resolve on their own within weeks.
But if yours doesn’t – and especially if your range of motion is hindered – seeing a doctor is a wise choice. Various tests can diagnose a pinched nerve, including nerve conduction studies, which use electrodes to measure nerve impulses, muscle and nerve function; electromyography, which examines electrical activity in muscles; and MRI imaging, which can reveal possible nerve root compression.
Rest is one of the best, and simplest, ways to treat a pinched nerve in your neck, Dr. Chang says, as well as avoid making symptoms worse. Other treatments can also include NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen to lessen pain and inflammation, or physical therapy to relieve pressure on nerves by strengthening and stretching surrounding tissues. Dr. Chang also utilizes epidural steroid injections as a pain relief treatment before considering surgery.
Surgery is typically a last resort, performed only if all conservative measures haven’t worked to ease the pain and other symptoms over the long run.
“Permanent nerve damage can sometimes occur if a pinched nerve in your neck isn’t monitored or treated,” Dr. Chang says. “But for most, this condition is merely a nuisance that lasts a few days or weeks. Let your doctor know if that isn’t the case.”