​Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy occurs as a result of compression or irritation of a nerve in the neck, at the point where it branches away from the spinal cord.

Your spine is constructed of multiple bones (vertebrae) vertically stacked upon each other, like a pile of boxes, with jelly-like cushions (disks) between the individual bones. The top part constituting the neck is known as the “cervical spine”, and your spinal cord (large group of nerves stretching down directly from the brain) runs throughout the centre of the bony vertebral column down your back. Nerve roots branch off from this central nerve cluster and come out, through spaces between the vertebrae, to form nerves and supply to various parts of your body. Anything that bothers these roots gives rise to “radiculopathy”.

The most common cause is a herniated disk. When it slips out of place from between the vertebrae, it can impact the exiting nerves and irritate them. Thus this process is also known as a ‘slipped disk’ and frequently shows up as we get older, due to dehydration of the disk, making it vulnerable to rupture easily. Sometimes bony growths can block the outlet of the roots and produce radiculopathy or compress the central cord (myelopathy), such as that seen in the disease named ‘Spinal Stenosis’. Another source of nerve root disturbance is displacement of disk following an injury to your neck or a fall. The nerves exiting from the cervical spine mainly supply the shoulders and arms, so when the roots are irritated, you may feel the consequences in your respective arm.

You can note the following symptoms of cervical radiculopathy:

  • A sharp, intense pain in the shoulder or arm is the prime symptom. It is possible that you experience neck pain which only shoots down the arm of the affected side on sneezing, coughing, or certain movements of neck or arm.

  • Numbness or tingling in arm of respective side

  • Muscles on that side may become weak, making you clumsy in handling objects​

Any of the above mentioned complaints are not normal signs of health. Go ahead and see a doctor from the Musculoskeletal and Sports Medicine Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital. If you have had a recent injury of fall, do not delay a medical consult. Especially if pain or other symptoms are severe and sudden in nature, immediately access the 24/7 Emergency and Acute Care Service Line, which is available round the clock. ​

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so makes sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.​

Initial evaluation may consist of some questions and a physical examination, to determine the function and sensations of the neck and arms. Depending on individual findings, additional tests may be ordered:

  • Imaging:  X-ray, Computerized Tomography (CT) scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or myelogram. This tests can help in studying the alignment of bones and determine the presence of bone spurs.

  • Nerve tests: electromyography and nerve conduction studies, to determine whether the nerves are functioning properly.​

Your doctor will discuss a treatment plan that best suits you needs and may choose from:

  • Pain management – with anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxants, narcotics and steroids

  • Physiotherapy

  • Traction, a mechanism for relieving pain

  • Soft collar (short term) for neck

  • Surgery – is usually the last option in emergency or severe non-responsive cases ​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage. ​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.