Brachialgia (pinched nerve)

Brachialgia, or cervical radiculopathy, is when there is an injury to a nerve root in the neck; it is sometimes called a ‘pinched nerve’.

How is it caused?

As we age, the discs in the spine start to degenerate and collapse. In some cases, the body grows ‘bone spurs’ (bony lumps, also known as osteophytes) to strengthen the spine. While this is perfectly normal, and in many cases does not cause any problems, sometimes bone spurs can make the spine stiffer and press on a nerve root.

What are the symptoms?

You may feel pain or pins and needles (paraesthesia) in your arm and this can be worse when you turn your head or stretch your neck. You may be able to relieve the pain by putting your hand on your head and stretching your shoulder.

How is it diagnosed?

Having discussed your symptoms, the specialist will examine your neck, including checking your reflexes, strength, and range of movement. The diagnosis can be backed up by X-rays; CT, ultrasound and/or MRI scans; and nerve conduction studies, which can show which symptoms are caused by pressure on the spinal nerve roots.

How is it treated?

Non-operative treatment: for most patients, symptoms will disappear without any treatment although they sometimes return. Your specialist may suggest that you take anti-inflammatory medicine and you may also be advised to carry out a gentle programme of exercises to stretch and strengthen your muscles. If your symptoms do not improve, a spinal injection of steroids can reduce pain and swelling, allowing the nerve time to recover.

Surgery: this depends on the type of problem causing the pinched nerve, but can include anterior cervical discectomy and spinal fusion; or disc replacement.

Important: This information is only a guideline to help you understand your treatment and what to expect. Everyone is different and your rehabilitation may be quicker or slower than other people’s. Please contact us for advice if you’re worried about any aspect of your health or recovery.