What Is A Pinched Nerve?

Nerves can get pinched (compressed) when tissue such as muscle, bone, tendons or cartilage put direct pressure on the nerve. A pinched nerve in the neck is known as cervical radiculopathy.

Nerve compression can happen to many nerves anywhere in the human body. When a nerve is compressed it will not function and symptoms will develop.

The symptoms associated with a pinched nerve include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling
  • Pins and needles
  • Balance defects
  • Burning sensation
  • Loss of mobility

How Are Pinched Nerves in The Neck Diagnosed?

neck pain

Source: portorangechiro.com

There are various ways that physicians are able to diagnose pinched nerves. At the initial consultation the physician will speak to the patient about their symptoms before examining the patient. If a diagnosis cannot be made from the information and examination some further tests will be conducted.

Electromyography (EMG is often used by physicians when looking for nerve damage due to compression. EMG is a conduction study that measures the signals transmitted from nerves. A tiny needle picks up and records electrical activity which allows the physician to make a diagnosis from the information.

Pinched nerves in the spine or neck can also be looked at with imaging. MRI and CT scans are used to locate the point of the damage and to inspect the condition of the nerve. X-rays and ultrasound are also used to detect nerve damage in the neck area.

Can Pinched Nerves in The Neck be Treated?

When a pinched nerve in the neck has been diagnosed the first option is to rest and see if the nerve decompresses by itself. If rest does not work there are some other ways to ease the symptoms such as physiotherapy. Gentle neck exercises and stretching can help to free a pinched nerve in the neck. 

If rest and physiotherapy do not cure the problem there is medication that may help. A course of anti-inflammatory medication such as naproxen or ibuprofen will reduce inflammation which helps to free nerves. Corticosteroids are another effective way to reduce inflammation to decompress the nerve.

If all of the non-invasive measures do not free the pinched nerve then surgery may be required. Surgeons can carry out nerve decompression surgery to free a nerve that’s been trapped. The surgery will relieve the pressure on the affected nerve and symptoms will ease.

What Nerves Are Responsible For Sight?

face of an old man side view

There are four nerves responsible for vision and eye movement which are all cranial nerves. All four cranial optic nerves are in the skull so cannot get pinched in the neck. Other nerves however, can get pinched in the neck but there is no evidence to say that it will cause visual issues.

The four cranial nerves responsible for sight are:

  • Optic (I) nerve
  • Oculomotor (III) nerve
  • Trochlear (IV) nerve
  • Abducen (VI) nerve

The optic nerve is a sensory nerve that’s responsible for vision. The abducens, trochlear and oculomotor nerves are responsible for the movement of the eyes.

What Are The Main Causes of Vision Problems?

The five main things that cause problems with eyesight are old age, cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

Old Age

As people get older parts of the body can start to deteriorate and the eyes are no exception. Presbyopia is an age related condition that makes it hard to focus due to the lens in the eyes hardening. This condition is not related to any compression of nerves in the neck.

Cataracts

Cataracts affect vision when they develop in the eyes due to proteins in the lens breaking down. Cloudy vision is a result of cataracts and they are often removed by surgeons. This eye condition is not caused by a pinched nerve and its usually linked to old age or disease.

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration causes a problem with the retina in the eye and the condition can be age related. When a part of the retina called the macula gets damaged it affects central vision. Peripheral vision is not usually affected when the macula is damaged.

The optic nerve is not affected by macular degeneration and a pinched nerve in the neck has no connection with the disease.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye disease caused by excess pressure in one or both eyes. The eyes make a fluid called the (aqueous humor) and when too much is made or it can’t drain away it puts pressure on the eyes. This pressure damages the optic nerve and compression in the neck is not linked to the disease.

Diabetes

Diabetes affects the eyesight and a condition known as diabetic retinopathy can develop. Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy causes blood vessels in the retina to leak which causes blurred vision.

As the disease progresses it can lead to proliferative diabetic retinopathy which is more serious. The blood vessels can close and suffer permanent damage which may cause a detached retina and loss of vision. A pinched nerve in the neck is not a contributing factor to this disease.

Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is an inherited disease of the eyes that gradually destroys the retina. Vision will deteriorate over a period of time and the condition can lead to blindness. There is no treatment for this disease and nerve damage does not cause or affect RP.

Medication

Medication can damage the eye lens and cornea which will lead to problems with sight. If corticosteroids are used to treat the symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck it can affect sight. Other drugs that affect sight include antihistamines, ethambutol and medication used to treat acne.

Which Nerves Can Get Pinched in The Neck?

a doctor checking up the neck of patient

The main nerves that can get pinched in the neck are the eight cervical nerves (C1-C8) and its useful to look at whether they have any connection to the eyes.

Cervical Nerves

The first three cervical nerves are C1, C2 and C3 and they are responsible for head and neck movement. These three important nerves can get pinched but this would have no impact on sight.

The C4 cervical nerve controls the shoulders and the diaphragm and is important for breathing. If this nerve gets compressed in the neck it will not affect sight or eye movement.

The next cervical nerve is the C5 which controls muscles in the upper body including the deltoids and biceps. The nerve also affects the elbow and the way the forearm rotates. No sight problems will occur if this nerve is compressed.

C6 passes through the neck and it controls wrist extensors as well as innervating the biceps in the upper arm. If this muscle gets trapped it will affect the wrist but no visual problems will develop.

C7 is in control of the tricep muscle at the back of the arm which allows the elbow joint to be straightened. C7 has no connection to the nerves that control sight or eye movement and when trapped will only affect the arm.

The final cervical nerve known as C8 controls the hands and it runs down the arm, through the hand and terminates at the pinky finger. This nerve also has no effect on sight or eye movement when it’s compressed.

If the C1, 2 or 3 nerves are compressed in the neck it can cause headaches. Many people suffer from headaches and report pain or a dull ache behind the eyes as a side effect. A headache as a result of cervical nerve compression does not cause vision issues.

After looking at what the cervical nerves do it’s clear that any compression is going to cause problems below the neck and not above. The eyes will not be affected if one of these nerves is compressed or even severed.

Occipital Neuralgia

There is a condition called occipital neuralgia which can develop when the occipital nerve is damaged. The condition can be caused by nerve compression, injury to the neck and muscle spasms. The condition leads to a number of symptoms including severe headaches, tenderness of the scalp and sensitivity to light.

The headache and sensitivity to light could possibly affect vision but the eyes and optic nerve are not affected.

Final Thoughts

After looking at all of the information about pinched nerves in the neck the answer to the question is no. It’s physically impossible for the nerves responsible for sight and eye movement to get pinched in the neck. Symptoms associated with other nerve entrapment may cause pain in the area around the eyes but sight is not affected.

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