Cervical radiculopathy is a common complaint, arising as a result of compression of cervical nerve roots due to conditions affecting the cervical vertebrae. However, in most cases, more than soft disc herniation, cervical radiculopathy occurs due to cervical spondylosis and arthritic bone spurs which is the degenerative condition that occurs with advancing age.1 Treatment, physical therapy, and exercises for cervical radiculopathy can not only help in faster recovery but also help prevent further damage.
Some of the risk factors of cervical radiculopathy include prior lumbar radiculopathy, cigarette smoking, lifting heavy weights, operating vibrating machines, and playing golf. Previous injuries, genetic make, and predisposition can put at an increased risk of cervical radiculopathy. People about 40 years and above are found to have a greater risk of cervical radiculopathy.2
The most common symptoms of cervical radiculopathy include neck pain, numbness and tingling in the arm, and radiating pain along the nerve course. Clinically sensory deficits, motor deficits, and diminished reflexes may be observed.1 A 2016 review stated that cervical radiculopathy affected 107.3 per 100,000 men and 63.5 per 100,000 women annually.1
Several studies have shown that cervical radiculopathy has become increasingly common due to the overuse of electronic gadgets like computers, cell phones, etc. A 2019 study showed that exercise or exercise combined with other treatments can effectively decrease pain and improve functional status.3 This gives a clear understanding that certain exercises can help in cervical radiculopathy however the study also confirmed that the exercises should be carefully planned for each patient according to their situation.
Exercises For Cervical Radiculopathy
Exercises for cervical radiculopathy are considered to be the most effective way to reduce the symptoms and regain functionality. The main focus of exercises for cervical radiculopathy is to reduce pain and nerve compression symptoms, improve range of motion, relieve muscle tension and release the pinched nerve, and improve muscle strength.
It is important to be cautious while performing these exercises and should be done with the guidance of a medical expert or physical therapist. You should begin slowly and progress gradually based on the improvement in the symptoms.
Some of the most effective exercises for cervical radiculopathy include:
Range of motion exercises increases the stability and flexibility thus reducing the pain and the risk of further injuries or nerve root compression. In the initial stages, strengthening is normally limited to isometric exercises of the neck and the affected arm. Once there is improvement progressive exercises of the affected area as well as the surrounding tissues can be done. These have to progress in a graded manner, such as flexibility and range of motion, followed by resistance training and then progressed to weight training.
Flexibility and range of motion exercises for cervical radiculopathy include:
Neck – Basic neck movements, chin tucks, moving the neck up and down, moving side to side, tilting the neck without bending, and bending towards the sides.
Shoulders – Improving the flexibility of the shoulders is one of the important exercises for cervical radiculopathy. It not only helps stretch the muscles but also helps in releasing the tensed muscles around the neck, shoulder, and arm. This help reduce the pain and numbness due to cervical radiculopathy.
These exercises for cervical radiculopathy include shoulder shrugs, shoulder rolls, and rotation of the arm with the hand outstretched, for which, wall support can be taken. Initially, you may find it difficult to move the affected arm but you can begin comfortably and slowly progress. These movements help relieve the muscle tension and make the joint free to move, thus relieving the symptoms of cervical radiculopathy.
Arms – Some exercises to perform with the outstretched arms are also effective for cervical radiculopathy. These include raising the arms above the head and touching the palms with elbows straight to form a salutation pose. Further, interlock the fingers of both the hands and turn both the palms facing the ceiling, and stretch the hands in the upwards direction. This is one of the best exercises for cervical radiculopathy as it gives a gentle stretch and helps relieve the tension in the surrounding muscles.
Side Bends – With the same position and hands stretched upwards perform side bends by slightly bending your back. Perform once on the left and then on the right side to feel the stretch in the shoulder and upper back.
Twists – These can be performed while sitting on a chair, floor, or in a standing position. In standing you can place both hands on your hips and twist your upper back to the left and turn to see the extreme left, as much as possible. Repeat the same on the right side. In the sitting position, place one hand behind, either on the chair or on the floor, and turn towards the same side by turning the neck and twisting the back. Repeat the same on the other side.
Resistance exercises are best done under an expert’s guidance and only if you are comfortable with them after the range of motion exercises. These are mainly done to improve the strength of the muscles and tissues around the neck and shoulders. In this, the resistance is offered by placing the expert’s hand to make your muscles work in the desired manner. Once you can perform them you may be asked to place your hand. Exercises for the shoulders and arms are also performed using the resistance band. Weight training exercises include the use of weights like dumbbells to work out the shoulder and upper back muscles, along with the muscles of the arm, biceps, and triceps. These prove to be effective in relieving the radiating pain and strengthening muscles helps prevent further injuries.
These exercises for cervical radiculopathy can help in relieving pinched nerve symptoms. Perform these exercises under supervision and discontinue if there is any discomfort or pain during the. Low-intensity exercise like walking can be of great help. Avoid repetitive or jerky movements, and take adequate rest in between your exercise sessions.