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Still having Pinched Nerve in Neck? 5 Tips for Pain Relief

By on November 11, 2013

Imagine waking up to searing pain in your neck and not being able to turn around and look at your alarm clock that is ringing incessantly.

That would most definitely count as a horrific morning! A nerve is referred to as pinched if there is something pressing on it. It could be bones, tendons or muscles.

pinched nerve in neck

image showing a woman experiencing neck pain

What is a Pinched Nerve in Neck?

In the neck, the nerves are known as cervical nerves and they pass through very small passages and are therefore at a higher risk of getting pinched.

A pinched nerve in the neck can cause an irritation or even a malfunction in the neck. The medical term for pain caused by a pinched nerve in the neck is Cervical Radiculopathy.

Hal from Carter County in Tennessee faces a disturbing predicament once every few months.

He says that once every couple of months, whenever he looks down briefly and looks back up, his neck gets somewhat stuck and at the same time feels a sort of tingly rush on the left side of his neck.

I asked him to move his neck from side to side just to conduct further investigation so as to see whether other symptoms were developing.

Thankfully he could move his neck albeit with some difficulty and a little pain to top it up.

That gave us both a hunch as to what the problem could be because at some point in time we had come across something similar in a magazine but we wrote it off.

Granted these symptoms are not so serious but they could get worse if left unattended, we decided to do something about it.

Since we didn’t have much of an idea as to what was going on inside his neck we agreed that he should talk to a doctor who would probably have more information about how to avoid any further damage that could occur.

What Causes a Pinched Nerve in Neck?

1. Herniated Disc

Vertebrae are the pieces of bone on an individual’s back. These are connected to each other via the intervertebral discs.

These discs act as shock absorbers for the spine. A herniated disc is basically a bulging disc caused by the center of an intervertebral disc moving through its outer layer and towards the spine.

This may put excessive pressure on the nerve roots.

2. Having too much or less activity than required on the neck and related joints

There is a correlation between the countless hours spent seated in the same position while staring at your computer or something similar and the pain in your neck.

There could be a stiffening due to lack of movement in those joints because muscles require exercise and movement to keep them supple.

3. Bone spurs

These are pieces of bone that grow as reinforcement around discs when the intervertebral discs become shorter and move closer to each other with age.

6 Signs You May be Having a Pinched Nerve in the Neck

With a pinched nerve in the neck the symptoms would vary slightly depending on the specific nerve that is being pinched. The cervical spine (neck) is comprised of seven vertebrae.

Vertebrae are the pieces of bone found on your back and in the cervical spine they start at the bottom of the skull up to the upper chest.

Here are the different effects on the specific nerve roots found in the neck.

  • C5 nerve root – Compression of this nerve root can cause pain in the shoulder, weakness in the deltoid muscle, and it will sometimes cause a little numbness in the shoulder.
  • C6 nerve root – Impingement of the C6 nerve root can end up in weakness in the biceps and wrist extensors (these are muscles that facilitate movement of the wrists). It also causes pain and/or numbness that may radiate down your arms and into the thumb.
  • C7 nerve root – Pinching of this nerve root can cause pain and/or numbness that may end up spreading down the arm and into the middle finger.
  • C8 nerve root – Pinching of the C8 nerve root may lead to the hand being dysfunctional. This can be evidenced by anindividual feeling clumsier than usual as the nerve that supplies the small muscles in the hand with nutrients is compressed. Pain and/or numbness could also move down the arm and towards the outside of the hand.

1. Stiffness

One of the more ‘visible’ signs of a pinched nerve in the neck is stiffness in the neck. This will definitely reduce your neck mobility.

2. Tingling/Pins and needles

Pins and needles in the neck can be a pain to deal with. It could be mild and feel like a mere tingling or more severe and that would feel like lots and lots of pins jabbing into your neck.

3. Headaches

Due to the tension caused by the pinched nerve frequent headaches may occur.

4. Dizziness

Once in a while you may feel woozy or lightheaded. Be careful not to write it off because it will probably wear off fast.

5. Difficulty sleeping

Sleep is a very important part of our daily routine but with a pinched nerve in the neck, it may become a luxury.

The discomfort caused by the pinched nerve may lead to sleepless nights. Now you know why you should not try to put off they symptoms associated with pinched nerve in your neck.

6. Pain

The pain could vary in intensity and can travel through the shoulders and sometimes even the chest. These symptoms could of course, be mistaken for indications of a heart attack so you will need to distinguish the two.

What to do Now! (if you have Pinched Nerve in the Neck)

1. Wearing Soft Collars

Soft collars reduce the motion in the neck and therefore allow the neck muscles to rest. A precaution however is that soft collars should not be worn over long periods of time as this may reduce the strength of the muscles in the neck because muscles need a little activity to keep them strong and active.

neck wraps

Image showing a lady using Moist Heat Wraps for the Neck

2. Applying moist heat

You could try placing a piece of cloth dipped in hot water on the painful site. This will help to improve blood circulation at that point of the neck.

Just ensure that the water is not too hot because you don’t intend to peel off your good looking skin around the neck.

3. Try these Stretches

There are different types of neck stretches that one can try so as to ease pain in the neck and also strengthen the neck muscles.

It should be noted though that all stretches should be done while inhaling and exhaling deeply so as to relax the neck muscles. This ensures that you will not strain the muscles as you do the stretches (Arc 4 Life, 2013).

Cervical Flexion and Extension

This type of stretch is basically taking your chin down to your chest. Tuck in your chin and slowly move your head forward as though you were attempting to touch your chest with your chin. When this is done, move your head backwards as gently as you can.

Try moving it as far back as it can go without hurting yourself. Repeat this 5 to 6 times. This exercise is good for pain that manifests at the back of the neck.

Lateral Flexion

Move your head clockwise to align your right ear with your right shoulder and then bring your head back and repeat this on the left side.

Remember to breathe in slowly and deeply so as to relax the neck muscles.

Rotating the Cervical Spine

This type of stretch may seem similar to the lateral flexion but there is a small twist to it. With this exercise, you are required to turn your head to one side as far as you possibly can but this time trying to take your chin past the limit of your shoulder.

Ensure that your shoulders are flat as opposed to raised while you do this exercise. Maintain that position for about 5 seconds while breathing in deeply.

When you are done with one side, repeat it on the other side of the neck. It is also advisable to do this exercise with your eyes closed as you may end up feeling a little lightheaded if you have your eyes open.

This exercise will help you strengthen your neck muscles. Sit upright on a chair and stretch both your arms outwards in front of you.

Hold your left wrist with your right hand and try pulling your left arm and shoulder above your head and toward the right.

Hold this position for around 10 seconds and then repeat it from the start with the hands interchanged. Repeat this about 8 times in one sitting and it can be done about 3 times a day.

Another exercise to strengthen the neck is as follows. Stand up straight and place your hands on either side of your body.

Bending your elbows could add a bit of oomph to this exercise and most of us love a challenge so bend your elbows too.

Slowly move your shoulder blades up as though attempting to bring them together and then move your shoulders backwards a couple of times. 8 to 10 times should do.

Be sure to control your movements so as not to sprain any more muscles (Tuando, 2013).


Cervical Spine Movement Rotation physiotherapy… by MedilawTV

Medical Treatment of Pinched Nerve in Neck

Medication

The drugs to use will include painkillers that reduce the pain and also reduce any inflammation where applicable.

These include ibuprofen and aspirin and are known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). One could also have spinal injections close to where the pinched nerve is located.

Surgery

In instances where the pain remains unbearable even after all other more conservative methods have been employed, it might be necessary to go for surgery.

There are different approaches that can be used for cervical radiculopathy and these are mainly determined by the type and location of the problem and your medical history.

There are three types of procedures that can be administered.These are artificial disk replacement, anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) and posterior cervical laminoforaminotomy.

These are huge terms but let’s try breaking them down a little.

Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR)

This is a substitution of the original but degenerated disc with an artificial one. This artificial one will allow for movement in the neck to continue.

The new disc will bring back the initial height between the vertebrae, widen the path that the nerves use and thereby alleviate the pressure on the neck.

It also restores the posture of the cervical spine. The implants are either totally metallic or a combination of plastic and metal.

Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)

This is the most common surgical procedure to deal with a pinched nerve in the neck.  The effects of this procedure are:

  • It returns to normal the positioning of the spine.
  • It retains the space required for the nerve roots to exit the spine.
  • It restricts movement across the section where the spine is degenerated.

The term “anterior” suggests that the operation will be done from the front of your neck. In this procedure, the defective disc is removed leaving a space.

The space is then extended to its original height when the disc was still okay. A bone graft is then positioned in the new space and then the vertebrae on either side of the graft are fused using a metal plate and screws.

This is to restrict movement so as to lessen the pain. The bone graft is used so as to increase the rate at which the vertebrae fuse.

Posterior Cervical Laminoforaminotomy

This procedure is conducted from the back of the spine as the name suggests. It is done by making a 1-2 inch incision along the middle of the neck.

The specific parts that are compressing the nerve root are what are removed. If necessary the herniated disc may also be removed.

There is no fusion in this procedure and this provides the opportunity for a faster recovery.

Pinched Nerve in Neck Summary

Pinched nerve in the neck can occur at any point in your life but chances increase with age since the intervertebral discs also age as the human body ages.

It may cause a lot of discomfort since the neck is an integral part of the body. Try as much as possible to avoid straining an already pinched nerve so as to reduce the pain.

Also remember that self-medication is not advisable so you should always seek a doctor’s prescription.

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