• London Spinal Partnership

Brachialgia- what is it?

Brachialgia, which is also referred to as cervical radiculopathy, is irritation or compression of either the dorsal (sensory) or ventral (motor) roots of a cervical nerve at one or more vertebral levels. This simply means that a nerve is compressed or pinched in the neck, resulting in pain travelling down the arm. Brachialgia is similar to sciatica but it affects the upper limbs rather than the lower limbs. Like sciatica, the symptoms of brachialgia can be sudden.

What causes brachialgia?

Within the spinal canal and intervertebral foramen are the spinal cord and spinal nerves; they’re placed within these protective passageways to ensure that they are not damaged.

Compression of the spinal cord or nerves can be caused by different factors for example

  • Intervertebral disc herniation

  • Osteophyte formation (bony lump)

  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing)

This leads to increased pressure on the cervical nerve roots, this can cause pain in the shoulders, arms or neck.

Symptoms of brachialgia

Brachialgia mainly affects people in the age range of around 50-54 years old. Studies have shown that annually 107 men out of 100,000 are diagnosed with brachialgia, whereas only 64 out of 100,000 women are diagnosed with the condition, meaning that men are at more risk of developing brachialgia. Symptoms can vary between patients; however, the most common symptoms include

  • Pins and needles (paraesthesia) in your arms, which may increase as you stretch your neck or turn your head to one side

  • Pain in your neck, shoulder blade or arm

  • Tingling sensations

  • Weakness or numbness in your arm

Diagnosis of brachialgia

To diagnose brachialgia, you may need to undergo a number of tests, this can include; CT scan, MRI scan, X-ray, ultrasounds and nerve conduction study. When being assessed by your consultant they will get an understanding of your symptoms, how long you have been experiencing the symptoms and any relevant medical history. In some cases, a physical examination of your neck may also be conducted to help determine the cause of the pain.

Treatments for brachialgia

In many cases of brachialgia, it will resolve itself spontaneously and can be initially managed conservatively. For some people non-surgical treatments can be used to help with the pain, this can include; physiotherapy, special exercises to stretch and strengthen the surrounding muscles and medication to ease the pain and reduce the inflammation. If these treatments are unsuccessful and symptoms persist, then steroid injections may be recommended as another way of reducing the pain and swelling. In some cases these treatments options do not work, so surgery may be considered. This may include anterior cervical discectomy, spinal fusion or disc replacement. Your consultant will discuss the most suitable surgery for your specific case. Please note that your treatment plan will vary depending on the nature and location of the pinched nerve.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.


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