Cervical Radiculopathy can be a frustrating syndrome of symptoms that may not even include significant neck or cervical pain. Specifically, cervical radiculopathy causes irritation, damage, or compression of the nerve root in the cervical region of the spine. At each level of the spine, a spinal nerve exits. The region of the nerve right after it exits the spinal cord is known as a nerve root. Because a nerve root is surrounded by the structures of the spine, there are problems with these vertebral structures that cause irritation or compression of the nerve that results in cervical radiculopathy.
Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy
Cervical radiculopathy causes symptoms that radiate out of the neck or cervical region of the spine. Classically, it will trigger some neck pain, but much of the pain extends down one arm. It doesn’t typically involve the entire arm; instead, it only follows the course of the impacted nerve’s distribution pattern. This pattern is a predictable roadmap that allows a physician to understand which nerve root is involved based upon symptoms alone.
Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy are not limited to pain. The nerve irritation or pinch responsible for these symptoms can cause any of the following, often a combination of these symptoms:
- Arm Pain
- Numbness down the arm
- Arm Tingling
- Arm Weakness
- Dexterity loss to the hand or fingers
- Burning pain down the arm
Diagnosing Cervical Radiculopathy:
The nerve root impacted by cervical radiculopathy lies within the spinal column. The bony constraints of the spine offer protection for these delicate structures. However, injuries and repetitive stress can lead to problems in the area, causing impingement upon the nerve root.
The spinal nerve runs through an opening created by vertebral bone, spinal disc, and various ligaments. Of these structures, only bone is readily visible on x-rays, as soft tissue structures are not defined well via this medium. To adequately visualize these components fully, a cervical spine MRI must be performed.
A cervical spine MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, provides a detailed image of the entire spinal column, bony and soft tissues alike. It clearly demonstrates the structures that may impact the spinal nerve root, as well as the nerve root itself. Not only does MRI allow visualization of the nerve impaction, it quantifies the degree of impingement. This quantification helps to guide the treating physician in their treatment recommendations.
Possible Causes of Cervical Radiculopathy
In younger people, the most common cause of cervical radiculopathy is a disc herniation. When a spinal disc herniates, disc material extends out from the normal confines of the disc. It may directly contact a spinal nerve root at the affected level, applying pressure and irritating the nerve. Disc herniations are also known to irritate sensitive nerve material via a chemical irritation process. Finally, a disc herniation may simply cause a loss of space within the nerve canal, resulting in compression and irritation of the nerve roots.
With age, the spine deteriorates. Discs dehydrate and decrease the space available to the exiting nerve root. Bone spurs form and directly pushes on nerve roots. Spinal ligaments thicken and become less flexible, also having the potential to apply pressure to the exiting nerve root.
While the mechanism may be different for each individual based upon age and health of the spine, cervical radiculopathy almost always has an inflammatory component. Inflammation is fluid and fluid can occupy space, limiting the room where the nerve root has to function. This inflammation may also be visualized by cervical MRI.
Cervical MRI, offered here at The Radiology Clinic, is the best imaging modality to fully evaluate cervical radiculopathy. Our 3T MRI offers the clearest, most accurate imaging in the shortest interval of time. If you are experiencing symptoms of cervical radiculopathy, the time to evaluate it is now, before permanent damage is done. Talk to your doctor today, requesting a Cervical MRI from The Radiology Clinic. Rest assured that you will have the best patient care with high quality imaging and interpretation by fellowship trained board certified radiologists, with your physician receiving prompt detailed results outlining the MRI findings. Call us at The Radiology Clinic at 301-217-0500 to schedule your imaging study..