Cervical Radiculopathy

What is cervical radiculopathy?
Cervical radiculopathy is often referred to as a ‘pinched nerve’ which causes pain in the neck or arm with additional weakness, numbness or changes of sensation in the shoulder or along the arm.

What causes cervical radiculopathy?
Cervical radiculopathy generally occurs when the root of one of the nerves exiting the spine becomes either compressed or irritated.

This may occur due to either a bulging disc or reduced space between the joints (osteoarthritis) in the neck causing compression on the nerve root, or chemical irritation causing swelling surrounding the nerve root

What are the symptoms?
The most common symptom is pain in your neck that radiates down your arm. This pain may be worse in your arm or shoulder rather than in the neck itself. The pain or symptoms in your arm will depend on the level of the spinal nerve root that has been impacted.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Paresthesia or numbness along the arm or hand
  • Muscle weakness
  • Headaches
  • Pain may be relieved by resting your arm above your head

How physio can help and what it might involve
A physiotherapist will ask you a lot of questions about your symptoms and use this information to determine the likely cause of your pain and in turn develop a treatment plan that aligns with your goals. On occasion the physio may refer you to have further investigations such as an MRI, X-ray or CT scan to rule out anything more sinister or to confirm a diagnosis but this is often not necessary.

During your assessment the physio will ask you to perform certain movements, palpate your neck and upper back and perform specific tests to help guide their treatment. They will also likely provide you with exercises to perform at home to ensure your pain continues to improve in between appointments and for the long term.

Cervical radiculopathy can cause severe pain and is usually something that has been building for sometime. Due to this, treatment results may take time and will depend on how irritable you are to begin with and the underlying cause of your radiculopathy.


Written by Caitlin Collenette, Physiotherapist.