An epidemiological survey of cervical radiculopathy in Rochester, Minnesota, 1976-90, through the records-linkage system of the Mayo Clinic ascertained 561 patients (332 males and 229 females). Ages ranged from 13 to 91 years; the mean age +/- SD was 47.6 +/- 13.1 years for males and 48.2 +/- 13.8 years for females. A history of physical exertion or trauma preceding the onset of symptoms occurred in only 14.8% of cases. A past history of lumbar radiculopathy was present in 41%. The median duration of symptoms prior to diagnosis was 15 days. A monoradiculopathy involving C7 nerve root was the most frequent, followed by C6. A confirmed disc protrusion was responsible for cervical radiculopathy in 21.9% of patients; 68.4% were related to spondylosis, disc or both. During the median duration of follow-up of 4.9 years, recurrence of the condition occurred in 31.7%, and 26% underwent surgery for cervical radiculopathy. A combination of radicular pain and sensory deficit, and objective muscle weakness were predictors of a decision to operate. At last follow-up 90% of our population-based patients were asymptomatic or only midly incapacitated due to cervical radiculopathy. The average annual age-adjusted incidence rates per 100,000 population for cervical radiculopathy in Rochester were 83.2 for the total, 107.3 for males and 63.5 for females. The age-specific annual incidence rate per 100,000 population reached a peak of 202.9 for the age group 50-54 years.