The neck or cervical spine is composed of seven vertebral levels C1-C7. In the spine, there are areas where the intervertebral disc and facet joints, join two cervical vertebral bodies. Where this occurs, it forms two canals on either side of the spine, called intervertebral foramina. At each level, the cervical spinal nerves exit the spinal cord through the intervertebral foramen. The spinal nerves are the electrical wires of the body. The size or diameter of the spinal foramina varies from person to person. Any compromise or encroachment of the canal may put pressure on the exiting nerve, producing symptoms varying from pain, tingling, numbness and weakness. Nerves exiting the area of the cervical spine provide sensation and motor control to the neck, shoulder, arm, and down to the hand. Damage or interference with the conduction of these nerves can cause neurological problems including pain, weakness, abnormal sensations, numbness and changes in spinal reflexes.
“Radiculopathy” is a term used to describe chronic conditions that injure the spinal nerves by compression or irritation. This irritation or compression results in radicular – or radiating – symptoms distally from their origin, in this case the cervical neck or cervical spine. The greatest amount of movement occurs at cervical vertebra C5-C6, but the levels C4-C5, and C6-C7 are responsible for almost as much movement. Movement produces more stress on these areas of the spine, thus the greatest amount of degeneration of the cervical spine occurs at these locations. Degeneration of these areas can be manifested in different ways, from disc degeneration to bony spur or osteophyte formation resulting in possible nerve encroachment or pinching. The most common nerves affected are at the C5, C6 and C7 levels.