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Physical Therapy for Cervical Radiculopathy: A Comprehensive Guide

Have you ever felt a persistent pinching or pricking sensation in your neck? You might have to check it, as that could be a sign of cervical radiculopathy.

According to research, 0.085% of people experience this phenomenon at least once in their lifetime. While the chances of experiencing cervical radiculopathy are rather slim, you might be here because you suspect that something isn't quite right with these strange, tingly sensations you feel. Don't panic. You've come to the right place. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will detail cervical radiculopathy, its causes, and how to prevent and cure it as effectively as possible. 

What is Cervical Radiculopathy? 

The nervous system in your body works like an interconnected network that sends signals to various parts of the body, similar to how wires in an electrical circuit operate. 

Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve in your neck irritates and causes pain. That nagging pain can spread from the nerve root in the cervical vertebrae in your neck, down your arm and shoulders, to your hands and fingers. 

A bulging or herniated disc could be the culprit, pinching a nearby nerve. This causes pain, numbness, or weakness to spread through your upper limbs, making your arm feel weak and clumsy. Sometimes, it is a consequence of an injury or a long-time build-up of pressure or tension on a particular nerve in the neck.

The good news is that cervical radiculopathy isn't terminal. Rest, tailored physical therapy exercises, and some anti-inflammatory medications can often ease the pressure and get the nerve signals flowing smoothly again.  

Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Radiculopathy 

Now, you may be wondering, how do I know if what I am feeling is actually cervical radiculopathy and not a nasty case of neck cramps or aches? Here are some pointers that will help you spot cervical radiculopathy early on:


Do you feel a dull ache or sharp pain in your neck that just won't go away? It may feel like it's radiating down your arm and may be worse when you move your neck in certain ways, like looking up at the ceiling or turning to look over your shoulder.

Perhaps on a few occasions, when you lift your arm up and over your head, you are rewarded with a momentary bout of relief. Well, these are all very strong indications of cervical radiculopathy.



This can be a tingly, pins-and-needles feeling that won't go away, especially in your arm and hand—that sensation that your arm is sleeping deeply. No matter how much you attempt to shake off this numbness, it persists. It could mean cervical radiculopathy is lurking around. 


Cervical radiculopathy can weaken your arm, making even simple tasks like holding a coffee mug monumental. This weariness could seep into the bones and muscles of the arms and make it feel like lead weights are hanging from them, greatly inhibiting mobility and flexible use of the arms. 


Reflex trouble

Your body's reflexes might be sluggish or even disappear. This can be a sign that the messages from your brain aren't getting through as smoothly as they should.

If you experience a lag between wanting to move or do a specific task with your arms and the actual action, then you need to check with a doctor to see if you perhaps have cervical radiculopathy. 

These symptoms are not exhaustive and can be sudden or unexpected. Every individual's body system functions and reacts uniquely. 

In case you feel any of the symptoms highlighted above, don't wait! Talk to your doctor to identify the root cause of this nuisance and quickly get possible physical therapy treatment recommendations for cervical radiculopathy. 

Diagnosis of Cervical Radiculopathy

Physical therapists help you professionally decode the signals your body is sending you. After all, it is what they've been trained to do—to diagnose and proffer a solution to whatever ailment you might be facing—the prime suspect in this case being cervical radiculopathy.

Here are the steps you can expect to go through for a thorough diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy:

The Enquiry

First, your therapist will grill you—not with hot coals, thankfully—but with questions about your symptoms, medical history, and any activities that might have triggered the pain. Some questions to expect are: 

  • How and when did your injury (if any) occur?

  • What are your current symptoms, and how have they changed your typical day and activities?

  • Do you have pain, and if so, what is the location and intensity of your pain?

  • Do you have trouble doing any activities? If yes, which ones?

  • Is there a specific posture where you feel most relieved of the pain?

  • Have you tried any home remedies or used any prescribed medication already?

Make sure you answer in a detailed and honest way so your doctor will have no problem ascertaining the root cause of the pain. You also get to ask your therapist some questions and seek clarification for an effective therapy session.

The physical examination

This is the hands-on part. Your physical therapist will check your neck for tenderness and range of motion and test your reflexes to see if your nerves are malfunctioning. Your therapist might also gently test the movement of your neck and arms by guiding you through some specific motions.

Special tests could also be performed on your neck and upper extremity. These tests will help detect which spinal nerve roots may be involved and rule out other conditions.


High-tech tools (imaging) 

For further confirmation and proof, you might need to go through some further tests using high-tech gadgets.

X-rays can be used to check for bone spurs, but MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) are often the top choice. These fancy machines create detailed pictures to see if a bulging or herniated disc is the culprit pinching your nerve.

An EMG (electromyography) might sometimes be used to measure nerve and muscle function. It can tell how well your spinal nerves communicate with your muscles. 

Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Cervical Radiculopathy?

Yes, physical therapy can be an effective treatment choice for cervical radiculopathy. 

Statistics have shown that over 85% of acute cervical radiculopathy gets resolved without any complicated treatment within 8 to 12 weeks.

Physical therapy will help reduce pain, improve mobility, and restore normal limb function. Physical therapy will involve:

  • Manual Therapy: Massaging areas surrounding the cervical spine will help alleviate pain and improve the range of motion.

  • Exercises: Try out some recommended, specific exercises targeting the neck, shoulder, and arm muscles. This will strengthen and stabilize the affected area and reduce the symptoms of cervical radiculopathy as time goes by.

  • Posture: Proper body posture while standing, sitting, and walking and ergonomic considerations regarding furniture choice can also help relieve pressure on the cervical spine and nerves.

  • Modalities: Modalities like heat, ice, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation are tools that you can utilize to alleviate pain caused by cervical radiculopathy.

  • Education and Lifestyle Modification: Familiarize yourself with your condition's peculiarities and adopt strategies to avoid activities that will only complicate matters. 

If physical therapy is conducted and supervised by a professional therapist, in no time, cervical radiculopathy will be treated. 

Exercises and Techniques for Cervical Radiculopathy?

To combat cervical radiculopathy, there are some physical therapy treatment exercises you can try out:

Exercises for stretching the neck

Picture softly moving your chin down towards your chest, forming a double chin. Pause for a few seconds, then let go and do it again. This elongates the muscles at the front of your neck.

Do these side bends by gently leaning your head towards one shoulder to stretch the side of your neck? Pause for a brief moment before doing the same on the opposite side. Allow your body to guide you rather than pushing it.

Exercises that build muscle and improve strength

Perform isometric neck holds by gently pushing your head against your hand, with your palm on your forehead and your fingers cradling the back of your head, mimicking a bodybuilder without using weights. Wait a couple of seconds, then release and do it again. This helps to strengthen the muscles that provide support to your neck.

Please note that these are simply a start. Before beginning a new exercise routine, it is essential to seek advice from a healthcare provider, particularly if you suffer from cervical radiculopathy. They can customize a secure and successful program according to your requirements. 

Additional recommendation 

Using heat on your neck can also help relieve muscle tightness and discomfort. Apply a warm compress, perform your exercises, and combat the pinched nerve.

How Long Does Cervical Radiculopathy Last? 

Typically, cervical radiculopathy is not a lifelong companion. Most cases improve within 6 to 12 weeks after adequate rest, physical therapy, and possibly taking anti-inflammatory medications. If the pain continues, your therapist can talk about possible treatments to help you return to optimal health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does physical therapy work for cervical radiculopathy? 

Certainly! That's why we strongly advise it. Physical therapy plays a leading role in battling cervical radiculopathy. It cannot heal a herniated disc quickly. Still, specific stretching, strength training, and hands-on treatment can reduce pressure on the compressed nerve, increase flexibility, and help you return to painless movement.

What is the best exercise for cervical radiculopathy?

Finding the most effective exercise for cervical radiculopathy is based on individual needs due to its personalized nature. Nevertheless, chin tucks are an excellent place to begin! They softly elongate the muscles at the front of the neck, possibly increasing the room for the compressed nerve. It is important to pay attention to your body and seek guidance from a healthcare provider before beginning any new physical therapy exercises for cervical radiculopathy. They can establish a secure and focused schedule tailored to you.

Can you fully recover from cervical radiculopathy?

Yes, usually! Fortunately, cervical radiculopathy is frequently a temporary condition. With correct care, such as physical therapy and lifestyle adjustments, most individuals experience complete healing in 3 months.

Early identification and intervention are crucial. If the pain continues, your therapist can consider other alternatives to help you return to a pain-free life.

Final Thoughts

Pain from cervical radiculopathy can be excruciating, affecting normal life’s activities and overall quality of life.

But the good news is that cervical radiculopathy is curable. Healthy, pain-free neck muscles are achievable. All it takes is the right treatment strategy, lifestyle modification, and a tailored physical activity recommended by a professional physical therapist.

After diagnosing the root cause, your therapist can provide some exercises and support tools to maintain the flexibility and strength of your neck muscles.

It is best to take a step towards full recovery early enough to help prevent further deterioration of the neck function.  

You can contact Miracle Rehab Clinic and book an appointment with a professional physical therapist to combat cervical radiculopathy.

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