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What is Nerve Root Compression (Radiculopathy)?

Cervical Nerve Root Compression, clinically known as Radiculopathy, Refers to the impaction or irritations of nerve roots as they exit the cervical spine. Typically, this will cause pain and neurological symptoms in the neck or arm. Patients will often describe pain in a specific distribution down their arm, or numbness, tingling or weakness of the affected arm.

Your doctor may have diagnosed you with cervical Radiculopathy, a Cervical Pinched Nerve or nerve root irritation, these are all similar terms for a Cervical Nerve Root Compression.

What are the main Symptoms of Cervical Nerve Root Compression?

Symptoms of Cervical Nerve Root Compression can include pain and neurological symptoms:

  • A Burning or searing pain, that can travel down one arm
  • Numbness, tingling or ‘pins and needles’ down the arm or into the hand and fingers
  • Weakness of certain parts of the shoulder, arm or hand, or difficulty moving your arm
  • Abnormal reflexes when tested by a health professional

Why Are The Symptoms Down My Arm?

The cervical nerve roots at each spinal level, are distributed to convey the sensory information to the different areas of your arm. These distributions are called dermatomes, see the chart below. The specific nerve roots that are compressed or impacted, will alter the sensation or cause pain along these distributions. Likewise, each specific nerve root will innervate specific muscles in your arm. These specific groups of muscles and called myotomes, see the chart below. When a specific nerve root is compressed, muscles in this specific myotome may have reduced or no power.

As an example, a C6 Nerve Root Compression may cause someone to feel numbness in the thumb and/or weakness to the bicep muscle.


Dermatomes of Upper Limb

Action Nerve Root Muscles
Chin tuck C1-C2 Rectus capitis anterior

Rectus capitis lateralis

Head side flexion C3 Longus capitis

Longus cervicis


Shoulder elevation C4 Trapezius

Levator scapulae

Shoulder abduction C5 Deltoid
Elbow flexion

Wrist extension

C6 Biceps

Extensor carpi radialis brevis

Extensor carpi radialis longus

Elbow extension

Wrist flexion

C7 Triceps

Flexor carpi radialis

Flexor digitorum superficialis

Thumb extension C8 Extensor pollicus longus

Extensor pollicus brevis

Finger abduction/


T1 Intrinsic muscles of the hand

What causes Cervical Nerve Root Compression?

There is a large amount of conditions that can cause a Cervical Nerve Root Compression. Disc herniations, central spinal stenosis, osteophyte formation, spondylolisthesis or foraminal stenosis can all impact on the cervical nerve roots. It is this impaction or compression that causes the symptoms to occur.

How do I know I what condition is causing my Nerve Root Compression?

Your physiotherapist will be able to thoroughly assess your condition and give you a specific diagnosis regarding your Cervical Nerve Root Compression. After a thorough exam your physiotherapist will be able to create a plan for you, and can guide you on whether any scans or investigations may need to be completed.

How can you help me with my Nerve Root Compression?

Your physiotherapy treatment will be specific to your presentation and guided by what your physiotherapist has found in your assessment. Usually, your treatment will involve techniques to de-compress and settle down the affected nerve root, and stretching/strengthening the supporting structures. You will then be guided through your recovery to deliver you back to your optimal function.

What should I do to avoid aggravating my Nerve Root Compression?

  • DO NOT smoke.
  • Avoid lying on the affected arm
  • REMAIN ACTIVE, but avoid your aggravating activities.
  • RECEIVE physiotherapy care to get your joints, ligaments and muscles de-loaded and moving freely with no restrictions.

Keep good care of your body and your physiotherapist will continue to monitor your condition. Once your Nerve Root Compression has resolved you will be able to resume your full activities without worrying about future flare-ups.

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