A Pinched Nerve in the Neck - Symptoms, Treatment, and When to Consider Surgery



April 15, 2012

A pinched nerve occurs when the nerve is compressed by surrounding tissues and its normal function has been disrupted. A pinched nerve can happen at any part of the body, including the neck.

Many factors can cause a pinched nerve. Herniated discs, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, and arthritis are among the most common causes of a pinched nerve in the neck, as well as in the lower back. 

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in the Neck

If you have a pinched nerve in the neck, you’ll know, because most likely it’ll be truly a “pain in the neck.”

Depending on the cause and severity, symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck may vary. But the most common symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck include the following:

  • Neck pain that may travel down the arm
  • Neck stiffness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle weakness

Without effective treatment, a pinched nerve in the neck could lead to:

  • Chronic pain
  • Muscle atrophy, and
  • Permanent nerve damage

To relieve the symptoms of a pinched nerve and to avoid permanent damage, early diagnosis and treatment are critical.

Pinched Nerve in the Neck Treatment

Options of pinched nerve in the neck treatment can be classified into 2 categories: nonsurgical treatment (aka conservative treatment) and surgical treatment.

Nonsurgical treatment

Most commonly used nonsurgical options of pinched nerve in the neck treatment include the following:

  • Rest or ice therapy. In many mild cases, rest and ice therapy can effectively reduce the pain caused by a pinched nerve in the neck.
  • A brace. In more serious cases, a brace/collar may be needed to immobilize the neck and to avoid further injury.
  • Medication. Pain medication (over the counter and/or prescribed) can help reduce the inflammation cause by a pinched nerve in the neck and reduce pain.
  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy can help reduce pain by stretching and strengthening the neck muscles.

Surgical treatment

The main goal of surgical treatment is to release the compression so that the normal function of a pinched nerve can be restored. In the old days, open surgery was the only surgical option for a pinched nerve in the neck. Thanks to the advancement of surgical techniques and instruments, today a pinched nerve surgery is often performed using minimally invasive techniques (eg, endoscopic spine surgery). Compared with open surgery, minimally invasive surgery offers many advantages, including small incision, minimal tissue damage, minimal blood loss, quick recovery, and more.

When to Consider Surgery

In general, surgery is considered only after nonsurgical treatment options have been unsuccessful.

But depending on the cause and severity of a pinched nerve, surgery may be considered sooner. If you have symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck and you are concerned, talk to your doctor to ensure early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

For more information about a pinched nerve, symptoms and treatment options, visit http://www.atlanticspinecenter.com/conditions/what-is-pinched-nerve/.