Arm Pain


Arm pain, strangely enough, is sometimes not a symptom of something wrong with the arm, but a problem in the cervical spine (neck). Neck problems can affect the shoulders, arms, and even hands. These problems can be caused by wear and tear over the years, trauma, or simply "over-doing-it" one weekend.

If you are suffering from arm pain and have been in any sort of accident involving your neck, you should seek treatment from a physician. Get a list of questions to ask your doctor.

Types of Pain

Acute pain is commonly described as a very sharp pain or a dull ache. Treatment of acute pain includes physical therapy, medication, and other preventative practices, but this is usually is short-term. Patients with acute pain, even when it's severe, will typically improve or completely recover within six to eight weeks.

However, individuals with acute pain occurring more than three times in one year or who experience longer-lasting episodes of arm pain that significantly interfere with functional activities (e.g., sleeping, sitting, standing, walking, bending, riding in or driving a car) tend to develop a chronic condition.

Chronic pain is commonly described as a deep, aching, dull or burning pain in one area of the neck or traveling down the arms. Patients may experience numbness, tingling, burning, or a pins-and-needles type sensation in the arms. Chronic pain tends to last a long time, and is not relieved by standard types of medical management like medication, physical therapy, or rest. It may result from a previous injury, or it may have an ongoing cause, such as nerve damage or arthritis. Keep track of your pain using our Neck Pain Tracker.

Causes of Arm Pain

Neck pain radiating down the arms is often caused by cervical spinal stenosis or a herniated disc.

Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the area of the spine where the nerve leaves the spine and travels to the rest of the body. This narrowing can be caused by many things: herniated disc, bone spurs, thickened ligaments, thickened bony structures, trauma, arthritis, and tumors. As the nerve leaves the spine, it travels through an opening created by bony structures of the spine above and below the nerve. If the size of this area is decreased, the decreasing can lead to irritation and "pinching" of the nerve, leading to pain and sometimes loss of function. The nervous system is the "communication system" of your body, so anything interfering with this communication can cause loss of mobility as well as pain and discomfort.

When the outer lining that surrounds the disc tears, the soft center squeezes out through the opening, creating a herniated disc. This protrusion can then put pressure on a nerve leading to pain. When a nerve root or the spinal cord is being pinched, you may experience pain in your neck, and pain or numbness in one or both of your arms and hands. In severe cases, the muscles that are controlled by the nerve root that is being compressed by the disc herniation may become weak. The pain that you feel in your neck, back, and arms can come from a combination of a tear in the annulus fibrosis, from the pressure that the disc herniation puts on the nerve, or from irritation, inflammation and swelling within the nerve.

Published: April 24, 2007
Updated: May 25, 2007