Arm pain is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Many people assume that arm pain is caused by injuries or conditions that directly affect the arm, such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or tennis elbow. However, arm pain can also be caused by problems in other parts of the body, including the neck.
The neck contains several important nerves that travel down the arm and provide sensation and muscle control to the hand and forearm. When these nerves are compressed, irritated, or inflamed, they can cause a wide range of symptoms in the arm, including pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. This type of arm pain is often referred to as "radiating arm pain" or "referred arm pain."
One common cause of neck-related arm pain is a condition known as cervical radiculopathy. This occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed by a herniated disc, bone spur, or other structural problem. The compressed nerve sends pain signals down the arm, causing arm pain and other symptoms. Cervical radiculopathy is more likely to occur in people who have a history of neck injuries, poor posture, or degenerative conditions such as arthritis. And sometimes you can have arm pain from the neck, with no neck pain at all!
So how do you know if your arm pain is related to your neck?
The first step is to see a professional physiotherapist who is trained to test for these problems.
Physical therapy can play a crucial role in the treatment of neck-related arm pain. Physical therapists are trained to assess and treat musculoskeletal conditions, and they can help determine the underlying cause of your arm pain and develop a customized treatment plan.
Here's how a physical therapist might approach your condition:
Assessment: A physical therapist will first assess your arm pain by asking you questions about your symptoms and medical history. They may also perform a physical examination of your neck, shoulder, and arm to identify areas of pain, tenderness, and weakness. Based on their assessment, they can determine the root cause of your arm pain and whether it is related to a problem in your neck. If needed they can refer you to your doctor if they feel that imaging, such an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan is necessary. The findings from all of these tests put together can help identify the underlying cause of your arm pain and determine the best course of treatment.
Treatment: Treatment for neck-related arm pain depends on the underlying cause of the condition. Once the underlying cause of your arm pain is identified, your physical therapist will develop a customized treatment plan to address your specific needs. Treatment may include:
- Manual therapy: This may involve gentle massage and stretching to relieve muscle tension and improve range of motion in the neck and arm.
- Exercises: Your physical therapist may prescribe specific exercises to help strengthen the neck, shoulder, and arm muscles, improve posture, and reduce pain. These exercises may include range of motion exercises, strengthening exercises, and stretches.
- Pain management techniques: Your physical therapist may also teach you pain management techniques such as hot/cold therapy, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), and other modalities to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. They may also use acupuncture or dry needling techniques to help relieve pain.
- Education: Your physical therapist will also educate you on proper posture and body mechanics, as well as provide advice on lifestyle modifications that can help reduce your risk of neck-related arm pain.
Physical therapy can be an effective treatment option for neck-related arm pain, and it is typically a more conservative approach than surgical intervention. By working closely with a physical therapist, you can find relief from arm pain and improve your overall quality of life.
If you have arm pain, don't dismiss the possibility that it could be related to a problem in your neck. By seeking prompt medical attention and exploring all of your treatment options, you can reduce your risk of long-term nerve damage and find relief from arm pain.