In this article I would like to discuss some of the symptoms of C1 – C7 herniation or nerve compression. While this type of problem in patients can be the result of many things, this article will focus on degenerative wear and tear of the cervical spine and scoliosis.
Sometimes I will see a patient who has neck pain. They will also have symptoms consistent with radiculopathy or more commonly, a pinched nerve. These symptoms would include a burning pain that would travel down the nerves from the neck through the shoulders and down the arm into the fingers. They will also often have headaches and migraines. They will have a hard time focusing their vision and may see visual abnormalities like double vision or slow motion vision. Memory difficulties or brain fog will be common. Many will have vertigo and dizziness. They will also be treated for dermatology problems such as itch and rash and excessive sweating. Something will be causing problems in their stomach and esophagus, and some will have difficulty in swallowing.
Did all of these problems develop spontaneously or are they connected? For some doctors, there is good evidence to suggest that neck pain may be at the root of these other problems through compression of the cervical nerves.
There are many nerves that run through the neck. It has been suggested that compression of these nerves may result in some of the symptoms I listed above.
A 2016 paper suggested (1) : “Neck pain caused by damaged cervical facet joints is a common cause of disability. Damage to C1-C2 (nerves) can elicit symptoms that include nerve irritation, vertebrobasilar insufficiency (poor blood flow to the back of the brain) with associated vertigo, tinnitus, dizziness, facial pain, arm pain, and migraine headaches. This diverse range of symptoms can make chronic neck pain a challenge to diagnose and treat. ”
The C3 nerve, along with the C1 and C2 provides nerve impulses to the cervical muscles that not only help move the head around, but also provides the innervation to the muscles that help with speech and swallowing. Compression of this nerve would then possible cause swallowing and speech difficulties.
Compression of the C4 nerve can cause problems with breathing as the nerve is one of the nerves (along with the phrenic nerve )that helps control the motion of the diaphragm.
A September 2020 paper (2) suggested that compression of the vagus nerve may cause complaints of pain and burning in the stomach. The paper also suggests that techniques that can decompress that vagus nerve can result in gastric symptoms being decreased. The authors write: “Based on research results and clinical experience, cervical region tightness can be considered to cause stomach problems through the vagal nerve, and soft tissue relaxation of the cervical region can be a promising treatment method for stomach symptoms.”
1 Bhatti AB, Kim S. Application of the harms technique to treat undiagnosed intractable C1-C2 unilateral neck pain: a case report. Cureus. 2016 Sep 21;8(9).
2 Asliyuce YO, Berberoglu U, Ulger O. Is cervical region tightness related to vagal function and stomach symptoms?. Medical hypotheses. 2020 Sep;142:109819.