Neck Pain is Just One Symptom
Discover the most common pinched nerve in neck symptoms. Learn the top causes and best conservative treatments.
A pinched nerve in your neck is one of the possible causes of neck pain. It can either be acute, symptoms occurring within the last few weeks, or chronic; symptoms having lasted for 3 or more months. People will have symptoms that have lasted less than a few weeks and think that they have an acute problem.
Many of the symptoms will be similar to that experienced with cervical spinal stenosis.
Many times it is a chronic issue that returns periodically for no apparent reason. The same chronic problem will typically recur with shorter periods of time between occurrences and the episodes will begin to be more severe and last longer.
If this sounds like you then you probably have the same old injury that you have been ignoring. It is just steadily getting worse.
You have both motor and sensory nerves in your body. The motor nerves take information from your brain out to your body at large. An example would be your brain telling your arm to contract a muscle. Sensory nerves transmit information from your body back to your brain. An example would be your hand telling your brain that you are touching something hot.
Pinched nerves in your neck can cause either type of nerves to malfunction.
Symptoms of Pinched Nerves in Your Neck
Pinched nerves in your neck are also commonly called cervical radiculopathy. This means that the symptoms are typically referred to areas other than just your neck. They will be similar to cervical herniated disc symptoms. The typical symptoms of a pinched nerve in your neck include the following.
- Neck muscle pain, stiffness and muscle spasms in neck
- Tight muscles and spasms in shoulders and upper back
- Guarded movements; a person will turn moving their shoulders instead of their neck
- Muscle weakness
Pain, numbness and tingling into the shoulder and sometimes into the arm all the way to the finger tips
Headaches – both behind the eyes and top of the head
Since the symptoms do include numbness, tingling and pain radiating as far down as the fingertips, a pinched nerve in your neck is often confused with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Causes of Pinched Nerves in Your Neck
Muscle imbalance is a major cause of a pinched nerve in your neck. If we are in a poor posture for a long period of time, such as hunched over a keyboard, our muscles weaken and get tight. Since we are either left or right handed we will have the muscles on one side of our body be stronger than the other.
When the muscles tighten the strong side wins out and can pull vertebrae out of alignment pinching the nerve. Stress will also cause our muscles to tighten and pull the vertebrae out of alignment. Many times people get into poor positions while sleeping and wake up with a pinched nerve in their neck.
The nerve root that exits the hole or foramen between the vertebrae does not have the same amount of protective sheath that the nerve has once it starts to branch out throughout the body. This makes it very susceptible to pressure and easily causes pain.
How much pressure does it take to affect the way a nerve functions? Not very much!
In 1975 Dr. Seth Sharpless, PhD, a researcher at the University of Colorado, discovered that the mere weight of a dime resting on a nerve root will reduce the amount of electrical transmission by almost 60%.
The next two pictures show a view of the muscles in the neck from the back and from the side. Most people don’t realize all the various muscles that we have that are working in concert to make even the simplest of movements.
The back view shows you how the muscles connect to the ends of the vertebrae. This gives them a lot of leverage. When we are tensing all of our muscles you can see how easily the stronger side can pull vertebrae out of alignment.
The side view shows you just how large the trapezius and the sterno-cleido-mastoideus muscles are. These attach to the base of our skull. Since the head weighs 8-12 pounds this is also a lot of leverage that can be placed unevenly on our spine.
One of the most common causes of a pinched nerve in your neck is a trauma that will twist vertebrae. If you had a trauma such as a fall, something hit you in the head or you were involved in a car accident, you very likely twisted vertebrae. The picture below shows the bands of ligaments that connect the vertebrae together.
The ligaments act like strong rubber bands or cables that support your spine. The muscles act on the bones to create motion. The ligaments help to dictate the end of our range of motion and to re-center the bones once the muscles are at rest.
In a trauma we hyper or overextend the ligaments, straining them. If you have ever over stretched a rubber band and then noticed that it won’t retract back to its original length you have some idea of what happens to a strained ligament.
The picture above will give you an idea of how the ligaments are attached to your vertebrae. You can see that there are a ton of them and they are very strong!
Until the strained ligament fully heals it is weak making it very easy for tense muscles to pull vertebrae out of alignment. This is one of the primary causes of confusion between acute and chronic pain.
Neck pain should not be ignored. The appropriate treatment for a pinched nerve depends on the cause and severity of the problem. It is important to distinguish between an acute problem and a chronic problem that is recurring.
If you have a twisted vertebrae a chiropractic back pain specialist is the only doctor trained to correct this. Consult your physician to get an accurate diagnosis.