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Degenerative Cervical Radiculopathy and Chiropractic


Wake up with arm pain?

Do you know if you sleep in the “proper” sleeping position? Don’t fret, that’s a trick question. If you ask 5 different people what the proper sleeping position is, odds are you’ll get 5 different answers. It’s difficult to say what the “proper” position is because there’s evidence to support each opinion. (That can be said for a lot of happenings in the world today for that matter.) I myself am a stomach sleeper. There are arguments that sleeping on your stomach is bad for your back, but recently there have been counter-arguments that sleeping on your stomach is actually the instinctual thing to do because it was a way to protect your vital organs in the event you were attacked in the middle of the night. It also helps to maintain core strength because every time you breathe your abdomen is pushing against a surface causing resistance, and that resistance encourages core tone and stability. But anyway, I digress because this article is not about sleeping…

So as I mentioned I am a stomach sleeper, but in addition to that I also sleep with my arm under my pillow to support my head. Is this a good habit? Eh, again it’s debatable, but I’ve been doing it my entire life and it’s difficult to break a habit when you’re unconscious. But it was this habit that started causing me to experience something new a few years ago that I had never happen before…when I woke up the next morning my hand would be NUMB! I was in my 20s! You’re not supposed to have numbness in your hands at 20something! I still remember quite vividly what it was like the first time it happened, but it went away after a few minutes once I got moving around, so like most people I just lived with it because it didn’t interfere with any of my activities.

It's common!

I think about this experience quite often when talking with patients about their symptoms. I talk to patients a LOT about neck pain, and I always follow-up with the question, “Are you also having any pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness into the arms or hands?” And 9 times out of 10 their response is, “You know what? Yes! How did you know?” Anatomy is an amazing thing!

What is radiculopathy?

Pain, numbness, tingling, and/or weakness is called radiculopathy, and it occurs when a nerve is compressed, usually in the spine. I’m sure you’ve heard of carpal tunnel syndrome: that is a specific type of radiculopathy affecting the median nerve causing symptoms in the hand, but radiculopathy could occur in any of the nerves that go down into the arms or legs.

Typically, when someone is having radiculopathy symptoms, it is accompanied by degenerative changes in the spine (bone spurs and/or disc herniations). You can have degeneration without radiculopathy, but it’s very unlikely someone will have radiculopathy without degeneration. Not saying it never happens! I have just not seen it so far in my personal experience.

Radiculopathy and chiropractic.

Many patients with radiculopathy symptoms are increasingly turning to specific conservative treatments, including chiropractic adjustments, to relieve their symptoms. Chiropractic has been shown to be incredibly effective with treating radiculopathy symptoms with fewer possibilities for side effects when compared to a treatment of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Long-term use of NSAIDs may increase the risk of ulcers, high blood pressure, kidney failure, and worsening of pre-existing heart failure. Overall, chiropractic adjustments of the neck and spine are shown to be beneficial, providing an immediate effect on pain relief in patients with degeneration and radiculopathy by mobilizing restricted joints in the neck, relaxing the neck muscles, and increasing blood flow to the area proving they are a safe and effective means of treatment for patients suffering from radiculopathy.

My point is that radiculopathy symptoms are never “normal,” so if you’ve having these symptoms and want to get it checked out to see if chiropractic can help, let us know!



Liguo, Z., Xu, W., & Shangquan, W. (n.d.). Does cervical spine manipulation reduce pain in people with degenerative cervical radiculopathy? A systematic review of the evidence, and a meta-analysis. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25681406/

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