Understanding a compressed nerve in the cervical region of the spine

A compressed nerve in the cervical region of the spine can cause potentially debilitating symptoms that affect the neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. There are eight sets of cervical nerves, delineated C1–C8, and each pair exits the spinal cord at the corresponding vertebral level. These nerves are particularly susceptible to nerve compression associated with age-related deterioration. Degenerative spine conditions that can lead to cervical nerve compression include osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease. These conditions are prevalent in the neck region because it must support the weight of the head and facilitate a wide range of stress-inducing movement.

Areas affected by a compressed cervical nerve

The areas of the body that experience symptoms will depend on the particular cervical nerve that is affected. Here is a nerve-by-nerve breakdown of the body parts they stimulate:

  • C1–C2 — ears, side of the head, back of the head
  • C3 — throat, neck, upper back, upper shoulders
  • C4 — lower shoulders, armpits, upper arms
  • C5 — outer shoulders, upper arms
  • C6 — outer lower arm, elbow, thumb, wrist, palm
  • C7 — palm, wrist, forefinger, middle finger, ring finger
  • C8 — wrist, palm, pinkie finger

The symptoms caused by a compressed cervical nerve might be constant or occur only with certain body movements.

Causes and treatment

As mentioned, the cervical region of the spine is susceptible to degenerative spine conditions that can give rise to conditions like herniated discs, bulging discs and bone spurs. These conditions, which often begin to occur when an individual reaches his or her 30s, are not necessarily symptomatic but can become debilitating. As we age, we begin to experience the effects of aging on our spines, which are subjected to a great deal of wear and tear from movement and supporting the weight of the body over time, and this wear and tear can lead to chronic pain and other symptoms.

Symptoms related to a compressed cervical nerve can frequently be managed using conservative treatment methods — like medication, exercise and rest — but a small percentage of patients find these methods ineffective even after several weeks or months. If you are advised by your physician or spine specialist to consider surgery, Laser Spine Institute offers minimally invasive decompression and stabilization procedures as a safer and effective alternative to highly invasive traditional open neck and back surgery. Contact us to learn about the benefits of the minimally invasive procedures our surgeons have used to help more than 75,000 people receive pain relief and a better quality of life.