Cervical radiculopathy is a condition where a nerve root in the spine at your neck is irritated. This condition may get better over time without treatment, but you have many nonsurgical treatment options to help as well.

If you’ve ever experienced the neck and arm pain associated with what some call a “pinched nerve” in your neck, you have firsthand experience with cervical radiculopathy.

It’s usually the result of compression or irritation of a nerve root in your spine in your neck area, also known as your cervical spine.

Common symptoms include painful neck movements and muscle spasms, weakness, or numbness. Sometimes the pain will radiate down one or both arms as well.

Ideally, treatment will relieve your symptoms so you can feel better and move normally again.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), most people with cervical radiculopathy respond well to a conservative regimen that includes medication and physical therapy, so it’s likely that you may not need surgery.

Your doctor might suggest starting with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, to relieve pain caused by inflammation or irritation.

Complications and risks

Some people may need to steer clear of certain NSAIDs, however. For example, ibuprofen can raise your risk of heart attack or stroke, and over the long term, it may contribute to stomach ulcers or bleeding, as well as kidney disease.


OTC meds are an inexpensive and easily accessible option for pain relief.

You have the option of a short course of oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and swelling around the affected nerve

Complications and risks

Research suggests that you’re unlikely to experience any severe adverse effects from a short course of oral steroids, especially at a low dose. However, you might experience:


Corticosteroids are generally considered effective at reducing pain associated with cervical radiculopathy.

If you have persistent pain and choose a steroid injection, your doctor will inject the medication into your back or neck with a needle. These injections may help delay the need for surgical repair.

Complications and risks

Although they’re considered safe, you could experience some side effects from a steroid injection, such as:

  • headache caused by leaking spinal fluid
  • low blood pressure
  • bleeding at the injection site
  • infection
  • nerve damage at the injection site


The injection should reduce pain and swelling in the area with the compressed nerve. After your injection, you should experience some pain relief that would enable you to carry out your typical activities and possibly also participate in physical therapy exercises.

If you’re experiencing severe, debilitating pain as a result of a compressed nerve in the cervical spine, your doctor might consider prescribing a narcotic

Complications and risks

Experts usually discourage long-term use of opioids, as there’s a possibility of dependence as well as a possibility of overdose. Research from 2019 suggests that in some cases, early surgery may be a better option.


Research also suggests that opioids can be effective at controlling this kind of intense pain, although opioid therapy must be carefully monitored.

Your doctor may encourage you to give physical therapy a try since many people do recover with rehabilitation and without surgery. In addition to strengthening and stretching exercises, you may learn how to modify your activities to help you maintain and regain function. Your routine may also incorporate massage and pain medications, too.

Wearing a soft padded cervical collar around your neck is a common way to let your neck rest and begin to heal.

Complications and risks

A cervical collar is designed for short-term use, as the AAOS cautions that long-term use might result in decreased strength in your neck muscles.


It’s an easy, noninvasive way to help prevent further damage to your neck. It may also help you maintain the correct posture for your neck while you’re asleep.

However, since studies are mixed on the effectiveness of soft cervical collars for cervical radiculopathy, speak with a doctor before using a soft collar to treat your symptoms.

Again, most people with cervical radiculopathy won’t need surgery. But surgery, which includes procedures to remove a piece of bone or soft tissue that may be causing the pressure and pain, could become an option if the nonsurgical treatments don’t solve the problem for you.

Complications and risks

As with any surgery, you could experience complications from the surgery, such as infection, bleeding, or reaction to anesthesia. Additional potential complications with spinal surgery can vary, depending on what type of surgical procedure you undergo.

Some procedures require that your surgeon approach your spinal column from the front. This anterior approach, which is used in procedures like the anterior surgical discectomy, can raise the possibility of damage to your esophagus, swallowing difficulties, and breathing difficulties, among others.


The goals of surgery are to relieve your neck pain, improve the stability and alignment of your spine, and preserve your range of motion in your neck.

You can also try a few easy things at home to reduce the symptoms caused by cervical radiculopathy:

Check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe to do certain things while you recover from cervical radiculopathy. You might consider asking about:

  • How much weight can I lift?
  • Is it safe to carry certain objects?
  • What medications should I take?
  • Can I exercise while I recover. And if so, what do you recommend?
  • How will I know if I need to get surgery?

Here are some frequently asked questions about treatment for cervical radiculopathy.

Does everyone with cervical radiculopathy need to undergo treatment?

Many people don’t need treatment at all. The pain often improves and then goes away on its own.

What’s the most common method of treatment for cervical radiculopathy?

Your doctor might suggest trying a combination of pain medication and physical therapy or gentle exercises.

Could my symptoms get worse?

Some people experience an immediate onset of pain and other symptoms, but your symptoms may develop over time.

If you’re experiencing pain in your neck that’s radiating down one or both of your arms — and maybe even causing some muscle weakness or numbness — you may have developed cervical radiculopathy.

See your doctor right away for an examination and diagnosis, so you can begin treatment and experience some relief.