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Clinical features and diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy

Jenice Robinson, MD
Milind J Kothari, DO
Section Editor
Jeremy M Shefner, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
John F Dashe, MD, PhD


Neck pain is extremely common and may arise from a number of causes. Cervical spondylosis and disc herniation were not thought to be causes of neck and arm pain until the 1940s, when ruptured cervical discs were first recognized as a cause of radicular symptoms in the arm in the absence of myelopathy [1,2]. In the early 20th century, symptoms now attributed to cervical radiculopathy were often ascribed to scalenus anticus compression of the brachial plexus and were treated by surgical section of the muscle.

Today, compressive cervical radiculopathy is recognized to be a common source of arm pain with or without sensory and motor dysfunction.

This topic will review the anatomy, pathophysiology, epidemiology, clinical evaluation, and diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy. The treatment of cervical radiculopathy is discussed separately. (See "Treatment and prognosis of cervical radiculopathy".)


The following is a brief review of the anatomy and bony architecture of the cervical spine.

Spinal column and joints — The cervical spinal column is comprised of seven vertebral bodies. The C1 vertebra (also known as the atlas) is a circular ring of bone without a body or a spinous process. The atlas connects the spine to the occipital bone of the skull superiorly, and articulates with the C2 vertebra (also known as the axis) inferiorly, without an intervening vertebral disc (figure 1).

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 19, 2016.
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