Why Does Neck Pain Travel Into Your Arm?

Most people who have experienced low back pain know about, or at the very least have heard of the sciatic nerve and its role in shooting sharp pain from the low back down the leg. The sciatic nerve is a big bundle of nerves that starts in the spinal cord, traveling down the leg, and then branching into smaller nerves that help us move and feel. A lesser known group of nerves, very similar to the sciatic nerve of the leg, also exists in the neck and shoulder. This large group of nerves is known as the “brachial plexus.” It is a web-like network of nerves that starts in the spinal cord of the neck, and moves into the shoulder/arm pit area before again branching into smaller nerves of the arm that also help us move and feel. The brachial plexus, along with the nerve roots that start at the spinal cord, can be responsible for neck pain that travels into the arm and hand.

Injuries to the nerves of the neck and the brachial plexus can happen in a number of ways. Most commonly, disc herniations or disc bulges in the neck put pressure on the nerves coming from the spinal cord. This pressure is commonly called a “pinched nerve” in the neck. Nerve roots are not meant to be touched by other tissues of the body, so when a disc protrudes into the nerve space and makes direct contact, it can cause sharp pain that shoots down the entire pathway of the nerve (ie: from the nerve in the neck down to the arm and hand. For that reason, direct damage to the brachial plexus itself in the neck and shoulder can also cause excruciating pain down the arm. Brachial plexus pain does not have to be due to a disc bulge in the neck. It is more commonly caused by a trauma to the neck or shoulder, that results in severe over-stretching of the nerves between the neck and shoulder. Two common causes of brachial plexus stretching are severe whiplash from a car accident, or a “stinger” in a football player, where the shoulder is sharply pulled down, while the head and neck are pulled in the opposite direction. If the tension is strong enough on the brachial plexus, a tear of the one of the nerves may occur. This can result in pain traveling down the arm, numbness/tingling, and even weakness of muscles in the arm.

Treatment for disc herniation and brachial plexus injuries conservatively, by chiropractors, depends on the severity of the injury. Trial treatments of soft tissue manipulation, and strengthening exercises will be used. If the patient is not responding favorably, and numbness, tingling, and weakness progresses in the arm, a surgical consult will be recommended.

For more information about neck pain, pinched nerves, and brachial plexus injuries, and whether or not chiropractic care in Rochester, NY can help reach out to Rochester ChiroTherapy at 585-678-1153, or by email rochesterchirotherapy@gmail.com.

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