Radiating Arm Pain: Could It Be a Pinched Nerve?

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If you experience pain that radiates up and down your arm, then you're likely wondering what’s causing it. And more importantly, you'd like to know what can be done to make the arm pain stop! Though several issues could cause radiating arm pain, a pinched nerve is often the reason.

What Is a Pinched Nerve?

A pinched nerve, or nerve compression, results from too much pressure on a nerve from surrounding tissue, bones, muscles, cartilage or tendons. This pressure interferes with the nerve's ability to carry accurate signals from the brain to various parts of the body. The compressed nerve causes sensations such as pain, tingling, numbness or weakness and can even affect the nerve's ability to control muscles.

Pinched nerves can happen throughout your body, though one of the most common places is in the spine which can cause arm tingling or pain that runs up and down your arm. If you have cervical radiculopathy, in which any of the cervical discs in your neck are affected, then the pain, tingling, numbness or weakness might radiate anywhere along the nerve's pathway. Nerve roots extend throughout the body and control muscle movements and sensations. They're surrounded by the vertebrae – the bones that make up what is called your spinal column. These nerve roots can be compressed by a vertebra, especially when a disc begins to degenerate.

Causes of a Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve could be caused by many conditions, including:

  • Herniated disc, where a tear in a vertebral disc's outer layer leaks the gel-like inner layer into the spinal canal, putting pressure on nerves in the area and causing significant discomfort.

  • Degenerative disc disease, which is a condition that can happen to the discs between the vertebrae over time, resulting in lower back pain and neck pain due to the discs beginning to shrink and lose integrity.

  • Bone spur, which is a small outgrowth of bone that develops along the spine as a result of minor inflammation.

  • Spinal arthritis, caused by cartilage in the joints wearing down due to aging, wear and tear, sometimes causing inflammation that places pressure on nearby nerves.

  • Repetitive motions, such as running or other exercise-related motions, extended use of a keyboard, or improper lifting. Learn more about how improper lifting affects your back.

  • Prolonged positions, such as when sleeping or sitting for long periods of time.

  • Pregnancy, which increases weight and water retention, both of which are risk factors for developing pinched nerves.

Other Possible Causes of Radiating Arm Pain

Radiating arm pain might also be caused by a fracture, infection or tumor. Pain in the left arm especially can be associated with a heart attack, so if you experience other symptoms along with left arm pain, like shortness of breath, or numbness in the arm, seek immediate medical care.

Pinched Nerve Treatments

  • Rest for the affected area is the most frequently recommended treatment for a pinched nerve.

  • You should stop any activities that press on the pinched nerve.

  • You might need a splint or brace to limit movement of your neck, shoulder, elbow or wrist.

  • Additional treatment includes physical therapy, medication and, as a last resort in extreme cases, surgery.

  • You might be referred to a spine specialist for a consultation.

If you’re experiencing radiating arm pain, numbness, or weakness in the hands or arms, call Dr. Fayaz for an appointment. Dr. Fayaz is a spine specialist in The Woodlands specializing in neck pain and back pain and can evaluate whether your arm pain is caused by a pinched nerve.

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