Pinched Nerve in the Neck

A pinched nerve in the neck (cervical radiculopathy) is caused when the nerve that goes from the spinal cord to the neck or arm is irritated or has pressure on it. This may be caused by a bulging spinal disk. A spinal disk is the cushion between each spinal bone (vertebrae). Or it may be caused by a narrowing of the spinal joint because of osteoarthritis and wear and tear from repeated injuries.

A pinched nerve can cause numbness, tingling, deep aching, or electrical shooting pain from the side of the neck all the way down to the fingers on one side. It can also cause weakness of the muscles that the nerve controls.

A pinched nerve may start after a sudden turning or bending force (such as in a car accident) or after a simple awkward movement. In either case, muscle spasm is commonly present and adds to the pain.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Rest and relax the muscles. Use a comfortable pillow that supports your head and keeps your spine in a natural (neutral) position. Your head shouldn’t be tilted forward or backward. A rolled-up towel may help for a custom fit. When standing or sitting, keep your neck in line with your body. Keep your head up and shoulders down. Stay away from activities that require you to move your neck a lot.

  • Use heat and massage to help ease the pain. Take a hot shower or bath, or use a heating pad. You can also use a cold pack for relief. You can make a cold pack by wrapping a plastic bag of crushed or cubed ice in a thin towel. Try both heat and cold, and use the method that feels best. Do this for 20 minutes several times a day.

  • Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding.

  • Reduce stress. Stress can make it longer for your pain to go away.

  • Do any exercises or stretches that were given to you as part of your discharge plan.

  • Wear a soft collar, if prescribed.

  • Try physical therapy and massages.

  • Ask about injections near the affected nerve or surgery for a more serious injury.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If you have muscle weakness, seek attention right away. You may need more tests. Tell your provider about any fever, chills, or weight loss.

If X-rays were taken, a radiologist may look at them. You will be told of any new findings that may affect your care.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Pain becomes worse even after taking prescribed pain medicine

  • Weakness in the arm or legs

  • Numbness in the arm gets worse

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

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