Nerve Root Compression

Cervical nerve root compression is usually the result of a herniated (or prolapsed) disc in the neck applying pressure on the nerve as it exits the spine. This can cause pain in the neck and down the arms.

Symptoms of Cervical Nerve Root Compression

Symptoms include pain in the neck which may come on after a relatively simple or minor movement. The pain usually radiates into the shoulder and sometimes down the arm. Neural symptoms such as tingling, numbness and decreased sensation may be felt in the arm or hand. Weakness of the arm or hand muscles is another common symptom.

Causes

Acute nerve root compression is most often caused by a herniated disc (also known as a prolapsed or slipped disc). Inbetween the body of each vertebrae is a vertebral disc which helps prvide cushioning and shock absorption for the spine. These discs consist of several rings of cartilage type material and an inner nucleus propulsus - a softer, jelly like material. It is this which can become herniated, through a defect in the external layers. The herniated nucleus then applies pressure to the nerve roots, as they exit the spine.

In older people with nerve root compression, the cause may be an osteophyte applying pressure on the nerve. An osteophyte is an overgrowth of bone, dur to repetitive stress, friction or degeneration. They may also be known as bone spurs.

Treatment

  • Seek medical attention if neck pain persists and especially if symptoms radiate into the arms.
  • Rest - a soft neck collar may be provided. 
  • The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Physical therapy may be provided once initial pain had decreased.
  • Extension exercises are advised to encourage the herniated disc to return back to normal.
  • If the symptoms don't improve, an MRI scan may be requested.
  • Surgery to repair the herniated disc may be performed in those with long standing symptoms or who symptoms are especially severe.