Neck and arm pain is often the result of an irritated or compressed nerve (sometimes called a pinched nerve) somewhere in the spine or shoulder area. Neck or arm pain is any pain that begins in the neck and travels below the level of the shoulder into the arm. People with sensitive or pinched nerves in their neck may experience feeling of pain, numbness, or tingling throughout their shoulder blade area extending into their arm or even their hand.
Now, just a fair warning… while the link between a problem in your neck and the pain you feel in your arm can be super obvious… it may not be clear at all. In fact, many people I see only have shoulder, elbow, or wrist pain… and only have some mild neck pain or stiffness. So yes, it is possible that what you think is a problem only with your shoulder, or your elbow, may actually be a problem coming from your neck.
Healthy nerves can glide, compress, or tension. When a nerve can no longer do these things due to injury, prolonged postures, or overuse it can become temporarily unhealthy. Also, know that Healthy nerves also need a strong blood supply. Unhealthy nerves will often cause feelings of
weakness, burning, shooting, numbness or tingling. Simply put, there is a problem somewhere
along the highway.
A pinched nerve is an unhealthy nerve due mainly to nerve compression or lack of blood supply. Most often this compression occurs at the level of the neck. But as we know, each nerve is like a garden hose, that can be “kinked” or compressed anywhere along its path. Take carpal tunnel for example, the compression of the nerve in this case is not at the neck, but at the wrist.
For the purpose of this post we will discuss pinched nerves that occur due to compression of
the nerves as they exit the neck. But be aware- sometimes nerves just become sensitive and are not actually pinched…
Just as an FYI- the fancy name for a pinched nerve is cervical radiculopathy- look it up and you’ll likely find all kinds of scary stuff…keep reading and I’ll try to ease your mind while explaining what a pinched nerve really is.
You should understand that nerves are like highways. I’ll repeat again. Say it with
me…Nerves are like HIGHWAYS! Pinched nerves are like highways with traffic jams that cause
temporary closure of some or all the lanes. If we close one of these lanes we slow the sending
of information and we end up with feelings of pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling
(Keep reading to discover the two most common causes of pinched nerves). Just as you make
take certain highways to get from one destination to another, nerves do the same. Feeling and
movement to different parts of the body are controlled by certain nerves.
While there are 8 big nerves or highways that branch from the neck. We will focus on 3 of these big nerves that travel from the neck down your arm that allow you to feel and move your hand and fingers. These nerves are the sixth, seventh, and eight cervical nerves. Cervical meaning neck and the number referring to the specific nerve level. Think of them as highway C6, C7, C8. Each of these nerves allows a certain area of the arm and hand the ability to feel and move. When we talk about feeling, the C6 nerve (the 6th nerve in the neck) generally gives feeling to the thumb and pointer finger, the C7 nerve gives feeling to the pointer and middle finger, whereas C8 gives feeling to the ring and little (pinky) fingers. The most commonly pinched nerve is C7 followed by C6, with C8 rarely being pinched. Why are these nerves commonly pinched you might ask??
For two reasons- the hole where the nerve exits is smallest between the 6th and 7th neck bones- leaving less space for the nerve to exit…
AND- the C7 highway, or the 7th nerve in the neck, is the largest nerve. Put these two things together and the nerve has less room to travel and is easier to become pinched.
Depending upon the nerve(s) that are pinched will often determine where you feel your
feelings of pain, numbness and tingling.
There are two major causes (or accidents if you like my “nerves are like highways” idea) that
may result in a pinched nerve.
1. Herniated Disc- usually causes only one nerve to be compressed and is most common in people aged 35-55
2. Arthritis or bone spurs-may cause multiple nerve levels to be compressed and is most common in people over 40 years old.
Unfortunately, you may not be able to recall what caused your pinched nerve. And often, there
may seem to be no obvious reason at all for a pinched nerve to occur…
More obvious causes of a pinched nerve include heavy lifting, car accidents or falls, and prolonged postures that occur throughout our days at home and while at work.
What does a pinched nerve feel like?
The most common feelings are pain, numbness, and tingling. Although everyone is unique and
may describe feelings from a pinched nerve as:
One lady even told me “It feels like ants are crawling on me…”
Point being, pinched nerves can create many unusual and scary feelings.
To determine if you have a pinched nerve- take this neck pain and pinched nerve self-test.
How’d it go? Have questions or need help? Call 484-552-3767 to learn about how you can naturally heal neck pain and pinched nerves or email me directly at 484-552-3767
One of the most common questions I get when people with lower back pain come to see me for physical therapy is “So what’s causing my lower back pain?”
Watch this video to learn the REAL cause of lower back pain…
And the truth is- all lower back pain (or any pain for that matter) is created by the BRAIN. Meaning- pain is an experience created by the brain to protect you from some perceived threat or danger. In other words, a problem in the back isn’t really the cause of your lower back pain… it’s just that the signals from the back are being sent to the brain- where the brain is processing them to be painful. Now, don’t think for a second that I’m trying to tell you that you’re lower back pain isn’t real.. or that “it’s all in your head”- NOT TRUE…
Get this… Pain is normal.
Pain is an experience created by the brain to protect you from threatening situations and injury.
Even if no problems exist in your body, nerves, or immune system…you may still feel pain if the brain thinks you are in danger.
Simply put, without your brain, you feel no pain.
Think of your brain and the pain you experience as your alarm system…
In everyday life, you have a “normal” threshold for pain – as your nerves buzz around happily waiting to react to whatever your body feels.
So your alarm system is set and ready to go. Your nerves are just buzzing along waiting to be stimulated…
If you hit your finger with a hammer, it hurts like heck, but eventually after several hours/days, it calms down to where it was before.
Now, imagine you’ve had lower back pain for a long time…it’s likely that your alarm system has become extra sensitive leaving you with little room for you to do things before your alarm systems goes off.
When we are not in pain and life is grand, it takes a lot for your alarm system to go off — just like a car’s alarm when you have to break the windows in order to set the alarm off.
Now, when your body’s been in pain for some time, the alarm system becomes extra sensitive — Instead of having to break and bash the windows before the alarm goes off, a leaf blower goes by and your alarm goes berserk!
Simply put… your body’s alarm system becomes sensitive and leaves little room to move and do things without feeling lower back pain.
Important Point: Pain does not equal damage or injury…it is simply an experience created by the brain when it thinks your body is in danger.
Imagine you get a paper cut…
Wouldn’t you be worried if the pain stuck around for months?
Sure you would, because normally the pain goes away in minutes to hours.
Then what makes your back any different?
Most people live with lower back pain for years…yet this simply couldn’t be caused by a simple injury to your lower back muscles or disc.
All tissues in your body heal, including the muscles, ligaments, discs and nerves in your lower back within about 3-6 months.
When pain lasts longer than 3-6 months or becomes chronic and lasts for years, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with your back or your back didn’t heal properly, it simply means that your alarm system is sensitive…and for some reason, your brain still senses danger.
Think about when you get a bruise and are not aware of it…
As long as your brain doesn’t sense danger, you won’t feel pain.
Another Point: You’re not crazy…pain is very real.
BUT remember, pain is an experience…
We’ve all heard about the crazy stories of people who are injured and feel absolutely no pain.
Picture the soldier injured in war who continues to run in order to save his life.
OR the man who had his arm trapped in between two rocks and cut his own arm off in order to escape the wilderness and survive. Yikes… but a true story.
On a more basic, less extreme level…think about the pain someone would feel if they hurt their back while running across a busy highway versus getting out of a chair.
I’d be willing to bet that the person running across the highway feels much less pain than the person who’s getting out of the chair.
So, situation can impact pain.
Other things that can change your pain experience include emotions, beliefs, sleep, your job, or your pain memories… just to mention a few.
Emotions: People who feel sad or worried often feel more pain. People who are happy and relaxed generally feel less pain.
Beliefs: Growing up, some people were taught to be afraid of pain or that pain is bad. Others were taught to “get up and brush it off.” Depending on your beliefs about pain you may feel more or less pain.
Sleep: People with good sleep habits generally feel less pain. I recommend 8 hours of sleep per night. Restful sleep has been shown to decrease the sensitivity of your alarm system.
Job: People who have stressful jobs and are unhappy with their careers often experience more pain compared to those who enjoy their work.
Memories: If your back was injured in a car accident…just thinking about driving could make your pain worse. Pain memories can be powerful.
Now, you should be asking yourself, “How do I calm my alarm system down?”
First things first, in order to calm your alarm system down, we need to review a few key points:
Point Number 1: Understand that pain does not equal harm.
Just because you feel pain doesn’t mean anything serious is wrong…it just means you’re alive and your alarm system is on high alert, that’s all! Your back heals itself in 3-6 months, but your alarm system might still be sensitive.
Point Number 2: Pain does not equal gain. Remember, even though pain is created by the brain, which can sometimes cause your alarm system to become extra sensitive…even when everything has healed, it is very real. And you should still listen to it.
Okay, now that you understand these two big points, here’s how you can begin decreasing the pain that you experience…
Respect pain and listen to it, but do not fear it.
Again, pain is normal…sometimes the brain gets a little confused and senses pain incorrectly.
Sometimes the brain senses pain incorrectly OR it thinks there is actually something dangerous when really everything is just fine.
Gentle movement and exercise helps relieve pain and release chemicals that soothe nerves and calm down your alarm system.
Choose a form of exercise you enjoy…walking, biking, or swimming are all great options.
Slowly increase the amount of time you exercise week by week. Exercise up until the point you start to experience your pain, then stop. If you stick with it, you should notice that you are able to do a bit more week by week with less pain.
Okay, so this is really going to make you think…
Recent research has clearly shown that there is little to no relationship between the issues found on an X-ray or MRI and the pain you feel in your lower back.
That is to say, just as many people with pain have bulging discs as those who have absolutely no pain at all.
The same goes for things like spinal stenosis.
Wrapping things up here…
If you’ve given up hope- and have lower back pain in the Royersford, Collegeville, Phoenixville, King of Prussia, OR Philadelphia areas- call 484 552 3767 for specialized lower back pain treatment.