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How Are Neck and Arm Pain Related?
How Are Neck and Arm Pain Related?

Pain in the neck and arm are often related.  It may be caused by one of several conditions stemming from damage or deterioration of the cervical discs.  Examples of this include degenerative disc disease, herniated disc, and cervical spinal stenosis.  When the pain radiates into the shoulder and arm, the results may be weakness and numbness.  If a nerve has been irritated or pinched, the condition is known as cervical radiculopathy.

What is a disc?

A disc is a pad located between the vertebrae of the spinal column that is round in shape, with a flat top and bottom.  Discs are filled with a jelly-like substance that cushions the vertebrae and acts as a shock absorber for the spine.  Unfortunately, discs can deteriorate as a result of aging, genetics, injury or trauma, and everyday wear and tear.

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)

As discs break down, they no longer function as they should.  They dry out, become less flexible, and can’t absorb shocks as well.  As discs shrink, there is less padding between the vertebrae.  Symptoms may appear suddenly or develop gradually over time and include neck pain, numbness, or weakness affecting the arm, hand, and fingers.  Pain is usually aggravated by movement and may interfere with daily tasks and activities.

Herniated Disc

Herniated, prolapsed disk compresses the spinal cord causing back pain and other health problems, 3d illustration

A disc becomes herniated when cracks or tears develop in the outer layer of the disc, allowing the disc nucleus, or jelly-like center, to protrude into the spinal cord.  The gel material itself can irritate a nearby nerve, or the disc may press on a nerve causing pain.  The pain is usually felt in just one arm, depending on which nerve root has been affected.

Cervical spinal stenosis

This is a narrowing of the spinal canal or foramen opening through which spinal nerves must travel.  Narrowing can put pressure on the nerves and cause pain.  Stenosis usually develops gradually and may be caused by osteoarthritis in the spine.

The resulting symptoms from any of these conditions affecting the cervical spine include pain in the neck, shoulders, or arms, as well as loss of dexterity and range of motion, muscle spasms, and numbness, tingling, and weakness in the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.

Diagnosis

The physician will want to perform a thorough neurological exam.  Diagnostic tests may include x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI.

Treatment 

Non-surgical treatments will depend on the diagnosis but may include rest, ice or heat therapy, non-steroidal medication for pain and inflammation, physical therapy, and epidural injections for pain management.

Depending on the diagnosis, surgery may be recommended if the more conservative treatments have not been helpful.

The physicians at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care are experienced in diagnosing and treating neck and arm pain.  Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors to discuss your treatment options.

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