The neck is supported by seven cervical vertebrae, and nestled among those seven vertebrae are eight cervical nerves. Each of these nerves begins at a cervical nerve root that branches off from the spinal cord to send electrical signals, or messages, to different parts of the body. The cervical nerves are identified by abbreviation, similar to the cervical vertebrae, using the notations C1-C8.
When a cervical nerve root becomes compressed or otherwise irritated due to a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease or other spinal condition, you can roughly determine the location of the spinal damage by where the symptoms travel to in your body. That’s because an issue with a particular cervical nerve will affect the area of your body receiving signals from that nerve.
For instance, if cervical spinal stenosis has caused compression of the C6 cervical nerve root, you might experience tingling, numbness or weakness in the upper arms or wrists. Or, a problem with the C5 nerve root might cause shoulder pain or numbness.
Here are the responsibilities of each cervical nerve root and where on the body you might experience corresponding discomfort:
- C1 and C2: head motion, sensation
- C3 and C4: diaphragm function
- C5: muscle function in the upper body
- C6: wrist and biceps function
- C7: triceps function
- C8: hand function
Most neck pain caused by an irregularity with a cervical nerve root can be managed through a course of conservative treatment, such as exercise, physical therapy, pain medicine or behavior modification. Occasionally, chronic pain may persist even after weeks or months of non-surgical treatments. At that point, your physician may present surgery as an option.
If this sounds familiar, consider Laser Spine Institute and our alternatives to traditional open back surgery. Contact us for your MRI or CT scan review.