What is Cervical Neuralgia?
Cervical Neuralgia is a rather broad term used for painful conditions as a result of nerve dysfunction or injury in the cervical region of the spinal cord. As far as the anatomy of the cervical spine is concerned, there are seven vertebrae and eight pairs of nerve roots in the cervical spine. This part of the cervical spine also houses the top part of the spinal cord. The main function of the cervical spine is to support the weight of the head and facilitate head and neck movements. As it happens with other regions of the spinal cord, with passage of time due to undue stress of constant movement of the head in day to day activities the cervical spine starts to degenerate. Degenerative spine is relatively asymptomatic but other conditions which arise due to this degeneration like development of bone spurs, herniated discs, or deterioration of the intervertebral joints can be very painful for the individual by causing irritation and compression of the spine and the adjoining nerve roots.
What Causes Cervical Neuralgia?
Cervical Neuralgia develops as a result of irritation of the occipital nerves due to some sort of injury or compression of the nerves as well as inflammation. There have been cases of Cervical Neuralgia where no clear etiology has ever been found. There are certain medical conditions, however, that can cause Cervical Neuralgia to include:
- Any sort of trauma or injury to the back of the head or neck
- Tightness of the neck muscles
- Tumors of the cervical spine
- Cervical disc disease
- Infectious process
- Diabetes mellitus
What are the Symptoms Associated with Cervical Neuralgia?
The nerves originating from the cervical spine support a large portion of the body including the head, neck, shoulders, hands, and fingers. Due to compression of any of the nerve roots of the cervical spine the following symptoms may occur:
- One of the symptoms of cervical neuralgia is constant excruciating pain in the neck, shoulders, and the thoracic area
- Radiating pain from the neck down the forearms and arms to the fingers
- Pain with any sort of movement of the head or neck can also be a symptom of cervical neuralgia
- Neck stiffness along with tightness
- Tenderness to palpation in the neck area
- Persistent headaches
How is Cervical Neuralgia Diagnosed?
If there is a suspicion of Cervical Neuralgia, the treating physician will begin by asking questions as to when the symptoms started. The physician will also ask about your past medical history to see if there have been any prior injuries to the cervical spine before even if it had been overlooked by you. The physician will then perform a physical examination and will start by moving the cervical spine or the neck region in different direction and look for any pain with movement. The physician will also look for areas of tenderness in the cervical spine on palpation and even see if any pain is reproduced. The physician may then order imaging studies to look at the internal structures of the cervical spine to see if there are any areas of compression of the nerves or any degeneration of the spine which is causing irritation resulting in the symptoms. The physician may give you a nerve block to relieve the pain and if the pain is successfully relieved with this block then it more or less confirmed that Cervical Neuralgia is the cause of your symptoms.
How is Cervical Neuralgia Treated?
The best way to treat Cervical Neuralgia is by taking the conservative route which means taking pain medications, exercises specific to the cervical spine, or epidural injections which more often than not manage the symptoms effectively. If the symptoms do not resolve after these measures and there is severe compression of the nerves then surgery may be recommended to relieve the pressure from the nerves and help with the symptoms caused by Cervical Neuralgia.