Some pain seems easy to identify, and other pain can sometimes hide behind more common symptoms to make it difficult to correctly identify the source of the discomfort. With a pinched nerve in the neck, it is very easy to identify the symptoms of the initial condition, but a pinched nerve could also mean that something much more severe is going on that needs immediate medical attention.
The causes of a pinched nerve in the neck vary from degenerative causes to conditions cause by trauma. Some examples of degenerative causes are arthritis; spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canals in the bones of the spine causing pressure on the nerve; and bone spurs, which are extra pieces of bone created usually in response to the inflammation caused by arthritis. When arthritis strikes, the inflammation in the joints excites the cells responsible for making bone matter, and those cells begin to create small offshoots of bone, called spurs.
Trauma to the neck could cause a herniated disc, which can put pressure on the spine as well. Herniated discs could also be the result of degeneration of disc material, which allows the disc to protrude from the spine and puts pressure on the nerve, causing neck pain.
When a person experiences a pinched nerve in the neck, the first common symptom is pain that radiates down the neck to the shoulders. There is also a stiffness in the neck that can proceed down the arm to the wrist.
In some cases, the pinched nerve in the neck will cause severe pain when the person attempts to move the head in any direction. For many people, it can be extremely painful to look up while in a seated position. Other symptoms along these lines can include pain when sneezing or coughing.
Many people move their head while they sleep, and this can trigger one of the more painful symptoms of a pinched nerve, waking from a sound sleep with extreme pain in the neck and shoulders. Persistent pinched nerve symptoms in the neck for some people can make sleeping difficult if not impossible.
In some cases, a pinched nerve in the neck may only be something temporary that will correct itself within a few days. But, because a pinched nerve in the neck could also be the sign of several more serious problems, such as spinal disc disease and spinal stenosis, it is important to see a doctor about neck pain if it persists for more than three or four days.