Symptoms and Signs of a Pinched Nerve in the Neck

Published: Jun 9, 2011
Category: Pinched Nerve

What is a Pinched Nerve in the Neck?


A pinched nerve in the neck occurs when there is compression on a cervical nerve and is a common cause for neck, shoulder, and arm pain. A pinched nerve in the neck is often a result of an injury such as whiplash from a car accident, or a fall. Since you do many things that require you to move your neck on a daily basis this is a condition that can greatly affect your life.

There are many spinal conditions that can contribute to a pinched nerve in the neck. In the majority of elderly patients a pinched nerve in the neck is often a result of osteoarthritis, while in younger patients it is often causes by traumatic injury or a herniated disc.

What Is the Function of a Nerve?


The nerve’s function in the body is to send information to the brain and our arms, legs and torso. In that sense they are like telephone wires branching out to various areas of the body helping to control sensation and movement. When you have a pinched nerve it sends pain signals to the brain. This would be your first indication that there may be a problem; a damaged nerve may also interrupt the normal signals and cause numbness and lose of mobility.

Pinched Cervical Nerve Symptoms


Listed below are some of the more common symptoms and signs of a pinched nerve in the neck:

  • Pain, numbness or tingling in your shoulders, arms, hands, or fingers depending on what nerve is being compressed.

  • Patches of numb skin, muscle weakness, or both

  • You may have neck pain.

  • You may have a searing pain that radiates into your shoulder.

  • You may have a shooting pain that goes down your arm which may worsen if you where to turn your head or move the neck.


There are other pinched cervical nerve symptoms that you feel but will be dependent on which nerve is injured. Signs of a pinched nerve in the neck will vary from person to person depending on how well they tolerate pain and how compressed the nerve is. It is important to seek a professional opinion so you can start treatment tailored to your individual needs.

Diagnosis of a Pinched Nerve in the Neck


A pinched nerve in the neck is diagnosed using a patient’s medical history and performing a physical examination. If your doctor is unable to accurately pinpoint which nerve is causing you problems they may request that you undergo a variety of diagnostic tests so that they can correctly identify the cause.

Tests that can be used to diagnosis a pinched nerve in the neck are:

  • Nerve Conduction Study, this is performed to test your nerve; the procedure will stimulate the nerve with a mild electrical shock. When a healthy nerve receives an electrical shock you should flinch, if the nerve is being impinged in any way, once it is shocked you may not flinch at all or only a little. While the test itself is not painful it can be uncomfortable.

  • Electromyography, this tests your muscles and is somewhat similar to a nerve conductivity test but it would be looking at your muscle response instead of the nerves.

  • X-rays, while this cannot see a pinched nerve it is useful for identifying other conditions that lead to a pinched nerve in the neck.

  • MRI, this test makes use of magnetic fields and radio waves to create highly detailed cross-sectional images of the body. The pictures would then allow your doctor to accurately diagnosis your pinched nerve and the possible underlying causes.