Cervical Radiculopathy - Cervical Nerve Compression
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Intervertebral discs are located between the vertebrae in the cervical spine. The discs are made up of strong connective tissue. Their tough outer layer is called the annulus fibrosus. Their gel-like center is called the nucleus pulposus. The discs and two small spinal facet joints connect one vertebra to the next. The discs and joints allow movement and provide stability. The discs also act as a shock-absorbing cushion to protect the cervical vertebrae.
The top section of the cervical spinal canal is very spacious. It allows more room for the spinal cord than any other part of the vertebral column. The extra space helps to prevent pressure on the spinal cord when you move your neck.
SymptomsAlthough the cause of cervical radiculopathy is at the spine, symptoms may occur at locations where the nerves travel, such as the shoulders, arms, and hands. You may experience pain, numbness, or weakness in these areas. You may have neck pain. Headaches may occur at the back of your head. In advanced cases, muscle wasting and symptoms in the legs may occur.
Your doctor will order X-rays to see the condition of the vertebrae in your cervical spine. Sometimes doctors inject dye into the spinal column to enhance the X-ray images in a procedure called a myelogram. A myelogram can indicate if there is pressure on your spinal cord or nerves from herniated discs, bone spurs, or tumors.
Your doctor may order computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to get a better view of your spinal structures. CT scans provide a view in layers, like the slices that make up a loaf of bread. The CT scan shows the shape and size of your spinal canal and the structures in and around it. The MRI scan is very sensitive. It provides the most detailed images of the discs, ligaments, spinal cord, nerve roots, or tumors. X-rays, myelograms, CT scans, and MRI scans are painless procedures and simply require that you remain motionless while a camera takes the pictures.
You will be sedated for your surgery. ACDF surgery is performed through an incision at the front of the neck. Your surgeon will make an incision approximately two inches long on the front of your neck, carefully avoiding your throat and airway. Your muscles and arteries will be moved aside with care to allow access to the vertebrae. Your surgeon will remove abnormal disc and bone structures.
Next, the surgeon places a bone graft or interbody fusion cage to support the cervical spine and promote healing. Surgical hardware including plates and screws may be used. The surgical hardware secures the vertebrae together and allows the bone grafts to heal, fusing together the vertebrae.
At the completion of your ACDF surgery, your surgeon will close your incision with stitches. You will receive pain medication immediately following your surgery. You will wear a neck brace or collar while your fusion heals.
You should expect to stay overnight in the hospital. You may need some help from another person during the first few days or weeks at home. If you do not have family members or friends nearby, talk to your doctor about possible alternative arrangements.
Following surgery, your doctor will initially restrict your activity level and body positioning. You should avoid lifting, housework, and yard-work until your doctor gives you the okay to do so. You will wear a neck brace for support. You will gradually increase your activity level. Once your neck has healed, physical therapists will teach you flexibility and strengthening exercises. You will also learn body mechanics, proper postures for your spine, for you to use when you stand, sit, and lift objects.
Am I at Risk
There are several factors which may increase the risk of cervical radiculopathy, including:
_____ People that are middle aged and older may experience age-related changes in the spine that increase the risk of cervical radiculopathy.
_____ Osteophytes or bone spurs increase the risk of cervical radiculopathy.
_____ “Wear and tear” or trauma may affect spinal structures and increase the risk of cervical radiculopathy.
_____ People with herniated cervical disc, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease are at risk for developing cervical radiculopathy.
ComplicationsIt is important to receive prompt attention for cervical radiculopathy. Untreated conditions may progress and cause further injury. Advanced cervical radiculopathy can cause muscle wasting, and the symptoms may spread to the legs.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.