After discussing your medical history and general health, your physical therapist will ask you about your symptoms related to the nerve that is pinched in your neck. He or she will then examine your neck, shoulder, arms and hands—looking for muscle weakness, loss of sensation, or any change in your reflexes.
Your physical therapist may also ask you to perform certain neck and arm movements to try to recreate and/or relieve your symptoms.
In some instances, the examination may warrant further assessment to better understand the origin of the pinched nerve symptoms as well as the severity of the disorder leading to the symptoms. A few tests are:
- X-rays. These provide images of dense structures, such as bone. An x-ray will show the alignment of bones along your neck. It can also reveal whether there is any narrowing of the foramen and damage to the discs.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scans. More detailed than a plain x-ray, a CT scan can help your doctor determine whether you have developed bone spurs near the foramen in your cervical spine.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. These studies create better images of the body’s soft tissues. An MRI of the neck can show if your nerve compression is caused by damage to soft tissues—such as a bulging or herniated disc. It can also help your doctor determine whether there is any damage to your spinal cord or nerve roots.
- Electromyography (EMG). Electromyography measures the electrical impulses of the muscles at rest and during contractions. Nerve conduction studies are often done along with EMG to determine if a nerve is functioning normally. Together, these tests can help your doctor determine whether your symptoms are caused by pressure on spinal nerve roots and nerve damage or by another condition that causes damage to nerves, such as diabetes.