A pinched neck nerve can cause a wide range of symptoms such as back and shoulder pain, muscle spasms, and even nausea or tooth pain. Here are symptoms, causes and treatment of a pinched nerve in the neck.
What is a Pinched Nerve?
There are twenty-four separate vertebrae in the spine, including seven in the neck. Nine other vertebrae are fused: four in the sacrum (base of spine) and five in the coccyx (tailbone). Collectively, the seven neck vertebrae are known as the cervical spine. Nerves emerge between the various vertebrae, and extend into the body.
In a healthy neck and back, the vertebrae align to work smoothly and in harmony. In spinal damage or stress, one or more vertebrae may misalign. A herniated disc in the spine, or other damage to the vertebrae, may cause pinching or pressure on one or several nerves.
Medically, the term for a pinched or compressed nerve is radiculopathy. Where more than one nerve is involved, it’s known as polyradiculopathy.
If you’re suffering neck pain or stiffness, you may also want to read Five Treatments for Neck Pain.
Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in the Neck
General symptoms of a pinched neck nerve may include:
- sharp, stabbing pain (in one or more parts of the body)
- ache or tension in the neck, shoulders, or back
- difficulty turning the head
- muscle spasms
- pain, tingling or numbness in the arms
Not all pinched nerve pain is localized at the source of the injury. A pinched nerve may cause referred pain. A pinched nerve in the neck, for instance, can cause spasms, pain or tingling in the arm or shoulder. The nerves named below are known to cause the adjacent symptoms, but please note that more than one nerve can affect the same area, so they are listed as possible culprits only. See also: The Thirteen Cranial Nerves and Their Functions.
Specific pinched nerve symptoms may include:
- impaired eye movement (Oculomotor or Abducens nerve)
- numbness, pain or tingling in the arms and/or hands (Radial or Median nerve)
- nausea or upset stomach (Vagus nerve)
- heart palpitation or chest pain (Vagus nerve)
- facial pain; itching in face or ears (Facial or Trigeminal nerve)
- tooth pain or sensitive teeth (Trigeminal nerve)
- jaw clenching or muscle spasms (Trigeminal nerve)
- hearing or equilibrium problems (Vestibulocochlear nerve)
- trouble swallowing (Vagus or Spinal Accessory nerve)
Causes of a Pinched Nerve
Causes of a pinched nerve in the neck or back may include: