What Causes Cervical Radiculopathy?

What Causes Cervical Radiculopathy?

The pillar upon which your body is built, the spine is a complex structure of bone and soft tissue that supports your body while providing a conduit for the nervous system. Nerves branch off of the spinal cord, reaching all parts of your body, reporting sensations, triggering muscle activity, and controlling autonomic systems. 

When a nerve in your neck becomes compressed or inflamed, its function is impaired from the point of the problem to potentially anywhere along the nerve’s length — a condition called cervical radiculopathy, or more commonly a pinched nerve. While the problem can heal spontaneously, there’s also a risk of developing a chronic condition. 

Turn to the experts at Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center at the first sign of a pinched nerve in your neck. There are a wide range of conservative treatment options before surgery is recommended. The sooner you’re diagnosed, the better your chance of a successful outcome and fast recovery. 

Spinal anatomy

The top seven vertebrae of the spine make up the cervical portion of the spinal column. Between each of the vertebrae is a cushioning disk that absorbs shock and allows the spine to bend by spacing the vertebrae out. This spacing also works with the design of the bones to permit the branching of nerves off of the spinal column. 

Eight pairs of nerves exit the spinal column in the cervical spine. These branch out further, comprising sensory nerves for the shoulders, arms, and hands, as well as the motor nerves that control the muscles responsible for movement of these same extremities. Parts of your chest and upper back are also served by cervical nerve branches. 

Problems arise when something compresses or irritates the nerve tissue, causing the symptoms of a pinched nerve. There are five common causes of cervical radiculopathy. 

Causes of cervical radiculopathy

In over half the cases of pinched nerves, the C7 nerve root is the victim. An additional 25% of cases affect the C6 nerve. The most common causes of cervical radiculopathy include: 

Herniated disc

Spinal discs have two types of tissue. The tough outer shell, called the annulus, can rupture, allowing the softer nucleus inside to protrude. In some cases, this escaping tissue can press directly against nerves, causing compression and irritation. 


When a normal passageway through the spine narrows, it can compress nerve tissue. This narrowing may be due to unusual bone growth, thickened ligaments, injuries to the spine, or tumors. A herniated disc that reduces the size of a nerve passageway can also be classed as stenosis. 

Degenerative disc disease

It’s normal for changes to occur in the spine as you get older. For example, the spinal discs dry out and shrink. This doesn’t always cause radiculopathy, but when it does, you’ll be diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. 


The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, tends to affect the lower back, but the cervical spine can become arthritic, too. Cartilage tissue of the spinal facet wears away, sometimes aggravated by degenerative disc disease.


Bones lose density as you get older. For most people, it’s not an issue, but in extreme cases, vertebrae can collapse or fracture. Either of these conditions can affect nerve roots branching from the spine. 

If your cervical radiculopathy interferes with daily life, contact Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center in Scottsdale. You can reach our office by phone or by using the New Patient link on this page. Our experts diagnose your condition and advise you of your treatment options. 

Relief is at hand. Book your appointment today. 

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