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The Frequent Shooting Pains Traveling Down Your Arm May Be Cervical Radiculopathy. Here's What You Need To Know About It

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If you feel a shooting pain that travels from your neck and into your fingers, you may have a condition called cervical radiculopathy. It's caused by the spinal nerves in your neck becoming compressed, which leads to damage and inflammation. The pain from cervical radiculopathy may only occur every once in a while or it may be constant, and it typically becomes worse when you move your neck.

In some cases, the shooting pain can become debilitating — you may avoid moving your neck or using your arm in order to avoid it. If these symptoms sound familiar to you, read on to learn more about what causes cervical radiculopathy and how you can treat it.

What Causes Cervical Radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy is most often caused by a herniated disc between the vertebrae in your neck. The intervertebral discs in your neck are filled with a gel-like substance, and they can rupture when too much weight is placed on them. Once they have ruptured, the gel-like contents of the disc can protrude out slightly, placing pressure on the spinal nerves in your neck and causing them to become inflamed.

However, anything that causes the spinal nerves in your neck to become compressed can lead to cervical radiculopathy. Vertebral bone spurs that grow towards your spinal nerves are another frequent cause of this condition.

What Are the Signs That You Have Cervical Radiculopathy?

When the spinal nerves in your neck are irritated from being compressed and become inflamed, they begin to transmit pain signals up and down their length. The spinal nerves in your neck run through your arms and into your hand. If you have cervical radiculopathy, you'll feel a shooting pain that begins in your neck and rapidly moves into your hand. In some cases, you may also feel numbness and tingling in addition to the pain.

Cervical radiculopathy typically only affects one of your hands, but it can also cause pain in both. You'll usually feel the shooting pain of cervical radiculopathy when you move your neck — some head movements, such as looking up into the sky, can worsen the compression of your spinal nerves. Symptoms are often relieved by reaching upwards with your arm, since this is a way to naturally reduce spinal nerve compression.

How Do You Treat Pain From Cervical Radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy often improves with non-surgical pain management techniques, such as applying ice to the area to reduce inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy can help as well.

However, cervical radiculopathy can sometimes be severe — profound nerve compression and inflammation can lead to chronic shooting pain in your arm along with severe numbness. In these cases, a surgical approach will be necessary to correct the cause of your cervical radiculopathy.

If your cervical radiculopathy is caused by a ruptured intervertebral disc, an orthopedic surgeon can remove it and fuse the two adjacent vertebrae together in order to stabilize them. This will eliminate the nerve compression. You can also elect to have the intervertebral disc replaced with an artificial one. If your cervical radiculopathy is caused by a bone spur, it can be surgically removed.

Surgical approaches to eliminate cervical radiculopathy are performed in a minimally invasive manner and are very effective at eliminating pain. If you have persistent shooting pain that starts in your neck and ends in your hands, schedule an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon in your area. An MRI scan can determine the cause of your cervical radiculopathy, and your orthopaedic surgeon will explain your best treatment options based on your medical imaging.