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