Pain in the neck and shoulder that radiates down through the arm can be debilitating. The most common reason for this is cervical radiculopathy, more commonly known as a pinched nerve. This occurs when a nerve in the neck has been compressed or irritated from movement away from the spinal cord. Normally this is caused by regular wear and tear that occurs in the spine as we age or from a sudden injury that results in a herniated disc.
If you are suffering from such an injury, it is important you understand the causes, the accompanying symptoms and the treatment options available to you.
For personalised advice, contact our team at Excel Body & Health clinic today at (03) 7009 3811.
Symptoms Of Your Neck & Shoulder Pain
Pain in the neck and shoulder that travels through the arm, often referred to as shoulder pain, is often accompanied by a range of common symptoms. These include:
- Pain in your neck and/or shoulders that radiates down through your arm. Certain movements of the neck, shoulder and arm may increase the pain, such as turning the head too much or extending the neck.
- A tingling or numbing sensation starting in the neck and ending in the hands. Often described as feeling like ‘pins and needles.’
- Muscle weakness affecting the neck, shoulders and arms.
Causes Of Cervical Radiculopathy
As stated earlier, cervical radiculopathy most often occurs because of degeneration experienced by the spine as we age or via a herniated disc, caused either by a sudden injury or simply by aging.
Degeneration of the spine is where discs in the spine lose height, bulge out and become stiffer. As these discs lose height, the vertebrae move closer together and the body responds by creating more bone to further support the spine. This extra bone (known as bone spurs) can lead to stiffening of the spine and can pinch the nerve root.
A herniated disc is where the outer layer of a vertebrate disc weakens and cracks and the inner layer, which is a viscous, jelly-like substance, pushes through the crack/s. Again, this puts pressure on the nerve.
In a majority of cases, cervical radiculopathy responds well to treatments including physical therapy and medication.
The first step towards addressing these symptoms is at-home remedies. These can be performed easily by you, or by an acquaintance if necessary.
- Heat and Ice Therapy: The application of cold and heat packs onto the afflicted area/s can reduce both pain and any inflammation (swelling, redness and heat) that has occurred.
- Stretching and Decompression: Gentle stretching of the afflicted nerve can help to loosen your neck muscles and release the nerve from the uncomfortable position.
- Over-the-counter Pain Medication: Commonly available anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen may decrease swelling and alleviate the pain that you may be feeling. However, it is important that you are aware that these are short-term measures to address the symptoms and will not affect the root causes of cervical radiculopathy. Never take any medication without consulting a healthcare professional first.
- Rest and Sleep: Getting additional sleep and resting the afflicted areas allows the body to better repair itself. Make sure you avoid physical activities that would be likely to further aggravate your symptoms.
Diagnosis & Treatment By A Healthcare Professional
If these at-home remedies do not work, or your symptoms are worsening or concerning to you, you will need to see a qualified healthcare professional. They can employ numerous methods to specifically diagnose your condition.
Your attending healthcare professional will ask about your symptoms and examine your neck, shoulders, arms and hands. They may ask you to move the affected parts of your body in an attempt to either recreate or relieve the symptoms.
Once your condition is specifically diagnosed, your practitioner will work with you to devise a suitable plan for treatment. These plans can include:
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapists have a thorough understanding of the exercises that may help strengthen and stretch your muscles in order to address the root cause of your symptoms. They can also offer advice as to how to position yourself during daily activities and work on preventive measures to help prevent future episodes.
- Soft Cervical Collar: This is a padded ring that goes around your neck and is designed to allow your neck muscles to relax, limit neck motion, and decrease the pinching of the nerve root/s.
- Surgical Treatment: If non-invasive treatment is ineffective, surgery may be required. Depending on the root cause of your symptoms, different surgical options will have to be considered. Your doctor can advise you further on this.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a pinched nerve lead to more serious problems?
Yes. If left untreated, pinched nerves can lead to a variety of serious problems. These include:
- Substantially increased pain.
- Permanent nerve damage.
- Loss of bladder and bowel control.
- Loss of sensations in the genital and anal regions.
- Disc degeneration (Breaking down of the spinal discs, osteoporosis of this spine).
- Peripheral Neuropathy (Addition of similar symptoms in the peripheral body parts such as arms, legs, feet and hands).
Do I need to go to the hospital?
The symptoms described ahead in this article are relatively normal and can be dealt with in a non-emergency capacity. However, if you are suffering from any of these further symptoms, you need to go to the ER right away.
- Fever, headache and neck stiffness. If you are experiencing all three of these symptoms, you may be suffering from bacterial meningitis, which is an infection affecting the spine and brain. This needs to be looked at by a medical professional as soon as possible so that they can allocate antibiotics if necessary.
- Loss of control over bowel or bladder. This could indicate that there is pressure on your spinal cord. Immediate medical attention is required.
- Unstable movements. If you can move your head noticeably further forward or backward than you are used to, you could have a fracture or a torn ligament.
- Constantly swollen necks glands. This could indicate an infection or potentially a tumour.
- Chest pain. Common symptoms of heart attacks also include shoulder, neck and arm pain, (specifically the left arm). Immediate medical attention is required.
How long do the symptoms stay for?
Symptoms tend to go away with rest and at-home treatment within a week. If they persist longer than this, you should look for medical assistance. If your symptoms are treated by a medical professional and still don’t abate within 6 to 8 weeks, you may need surgery.
Book Your Appointment
Pain in your shoulder and neck that radiates down your arm doesn’t have to stay as painful and restrictive as it so often is. If your symptoms are serious enough, you should explore seeking professional medical assistance.
Here at Excel Body & Health, our team of supportive and empowering professionals can provide a wide range of physical therapy options designed to stop your pain, treat your symptoms and get you back to your full range of free motion.
If you’re in or near the Rosanna area in Melbourne, click the link below to view the full range of ways we can support and treat you, or feel free to call us on (03) 7009 3811.