Pinched Nerve in the Neck | Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

One of the causes of neck pain can be from a pinched nerve caused by a bulging disk in the cervical spine. It is common to hear C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7 intervertebral disc levels mentioned as the problem zones on MRI scans. A medical doctor might call this a cervical radiculopathy.

This type of nerve pain can be excruciating with constant pain running down the back of the arm and between the shoulder blades. It may have come on for no apparent reason yet. You didn’t get a whiplash trauma from a car or during sport, you didn’t lift something heavy, you didn’t bang your head, or maybe you did one of these. However, the reality is now it just wont go away no matter what which way you turn and hold your head, move your arm. No sleeping position seems to help and massaging the muscles or taking over the counter or even prescription pain killer drugs are not sorting out the constant discomfort levels. Today I want to look at the symptoms, causes and home treatment options you have for a pinched nerve in neck pain.

Symptoms

Like I said above a pain episodes in the neck can start for no apparent reason. Just like most back pains. However, how people explain all the different feelings they get and the symptoms experienced can help tell you if it is definitely coming from the nerve root or something else. This is the reason doctors ask questions and do a medical history first before doing a physical examination. How you describe what you are going through can help guide a medical or professional healthcare practitioner to a final diagnosis.

Here are some of the common symptoms that people may say to explain what is happening:

  • I woke up and lifted my head off the pillow then I felt my neck twinge. It then slowly got worse and worse over the course of day and is now excruciating.
  • The pain started in near my inside shoulder blade and is now going down the back of my my arm down into my elbow and feels like the pain is in the bone.
  • It’s nagging pain across the top of my right or left shoulder and throbs in my tricep muscle and forearm.
  • I’m feeling pins and needles in the tips of my fingers and things feel numb to touch.
  • I can’t turn my head when I am driving. Checking blind spots is impossible.
  • I feel I need to lift my arm above my head in bed or when sitting to get some temporary pain relief.
  • This is the absolute worst pain that I have ever experienced in my life. Childbirth was nothing compared to this.

These are just some of the common descriptions of symptoms that people might say out loud or are definitely thinking it. So now you might relate to some of those statements above and think you are more confident that this is what yo are going through too. Now find out next what are the common reasons why the nerve becomes pinched in the first place.

Causes

The two most common causes for this type of neuralgia normally are:

  1. Bulging or Herniating Disc – In your spine you have these intervertebral disks between nearly every vertebrae bone in your neck. The only place you don’t have a disc is between C0-1 and C1-2 spinal levels. The disc in the neck can just be a bulging disc or a ruptured herniated disc.
  2. Osteoarthritis of the Cervical Spine – It is also known as OA and is a condition that develops over time. If you had a motor vehicle accident with bad whiplash injury when you were say in your 20’s you could already start seeing the degenerative changes in your neck by the time your even in your 30’s. It is common to hear people in their 60’s and 70’s complain of this condition. Arthritis of the cervical spine has to be officially diagnosed by doing a neck x-ray, MRI or CT scan. It may also be called cervical spondylosis by a diagnostic radiologist on the imaging report findings.

Here is a great video originally put on the post about trapped nerve in neck showing you the anatomy of the neck. The following video will show easy to see and understand anatomical structures. Get to visualise what cervical disc actually looks like, learn about the different parts that components that make up a cervical disc (nucleus pulposus & annulus fibrosis), the surrounding supporting ligaments and the relationship of the spinal cord and exiting spinal nerve root which transmits sensory and motor signals from your hand to your brain.

Pain Relief Treatment Options

Ok so we have gone through the typical types of symptoms, you know the two most common reasons why the nerve became irritated and started causing an issue, but now is the important part. You need some relief and want to know some recommendations on how to get started today.

Well here are some simple home treatments that you can try do for some self-help remedies. The goal is  to give you help for some much needed rest and distraction from the constant ache.

  1. Bakody Sign Position – the Bakody sign is both an orthopaedic test and a temporary treatment solution. The idea is when you lift your arm above your head and have your hand resting on top of your head this should take some of the pressure off the pinched nerve going into the left or right arm.
  2. Neck Posture – I know this is hard when your neck is in a spasm and it is so sore to even think of moving your head. However, trying to avoid arching your neck back could help take the pressure off the neck bulging disk a bit and take the pressure off the spinal joints that could be inflamed. The bad neck posture is when you have your chin jutting out and a hunched upper back. So gently pulling your chin back into your throat and a little bit of forward bend (flexion) in your neck could be pain relieving. Read the point #5 below where the Mckenzie method exercise book would help you see what to do.
  3. Hot and Cold Packs – the rule is usually that heat is used for when there is long-term muscle tightness and neck spasms. Whilst ice is used for initial onset of pain as a natural anti-inflammatory and pain-killer. To be honest either using hot or cold packs on your neck could help calm the pain levels down a bit. It can be more of a test to see which one you respond better too. For the best type of warming pad one of those microwaveable wheat bags, like this one, are great. The bags heat up fast and easily wrap around a neck or shoulder. The are reusable so when it cools down just put it into the microwave to warm it up again to your desired temperature. For the best type of cryotherapy I would use one of those moldable blue gel ice packs, like this one. These can be put in a protective cloth cover to help avoid freezer burning your skin. Apply the gel ice bag on the base or side of your neck for 20mins at a time and leave for about an hour or so in between.
  4. Memory Foam Pillow – the aim of a memory foam pillow is to give a pressure relieving effect on your neck muscles. The memory foam should sink with the heaviest part of your head whilst the rest of the foam then comes up to support the curve of your neck. There are many different memory foam brands and a variety shapes available on the market. The most famous brand known around the world would be the Tempur-Pedic range. When it comes to choosing which one to go with probably most people would like one of two options: a classic shaped memory foam pillow like this one from Amazon or a contoured cervical pillow like this one from Amazon used by physical therapists, chiropractors and osteopaths.
  5. Neck Exercises – trying to do neck exercises with a nerve that is inflamed and stuck can be very hard in the beginning. This is because of the lack or limited of pain-free directions of active range of movements possible. Maybe a good place to start would be with neck isometric muscle contractions. An isometric muscle contraction is when you tighten the muscle without moving the neck or head. So you could push your head to the left or right into the palm of your hand which would stop the head and neck from moving but let you contract the muscle on the side of your neck. If you are looking for a book with pictures and recommended movements then this one from McKenzie is the best option.

Last Updated: November 17, 2016

One thought on “Pinched Nerve in the Neck | Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

  1. This is exactly what happened to me over a year ago. I still get relief every morning by keeping arms above head for a while. My doctor is focusing on the finger tingling and suggests surgery for that. I know that will not help much, if at all. I’m hoping I can find enough exercise to alleviate symptoms on my own.

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