July 21, 2017

What does pain in the neck, shoulder and arm mean?

Neck, Back and Spine

The neck is exposed to injury and disorders that cause significant pain because it supports the weight of the head while also having a significant amount of motion. Pain that radiates down the arm may indicate a problem in the neck.

Anatomy
The neck (cervical spine) is composed of vertebrae bones and discs that connect the upper torso and base of the skull. The cervical spine provides stability to the neck while allowing motion to occur. Also, each vertebrae has an opening that forms the spinal canal, through which the spinal cord passes. Your spinal cord and nerves travel through the spinal canal carrying messages between your brain and muscles.

Cause of pain in neck, shoulder and arm
Neck pain that is accompanied by arm and shoulder pain is usually caused by:

Symptoms

  • Pain in neck, shoulder and arm that worsens with movement
  • Neck stiffness
  • Pain around the shoulder blades
  • Pain, numbness and/or weakness in one or both arms
  • Clumsiness in the hands
  • Loss of balance and/or coordination

When to seek medical treatment for neck and arm pain
If severe neck pain occurs after an accident, a trained professional should immediately immobilize the patient to avoid the risk of further injury. Immediate care should also be sought when an injury causes pain in the neck that radiates down the arms and legs.

For many people, neck and arm pain is a temporary condition that disappears with time. If you have not experienced an extreme injury, you should seek medical care when neck pain:

  • Lasts longer than 8 weeks
  • Is accompanied by extreme arm pain
  • Is accompanied by weakness in the arm
  • Is accompanied by tingling or numbness in the arm
  • Is accompanied by a loss of balance and/or coordination

To determine why you are experiencing neck pain, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe symptoms and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray and/or MRI is usually necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment
Some neck and arm pain can be treated with nonsurgical options such as:

  • Rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Over the counter medications
  • Prescription pain medications
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Acupuncture

Make an appointment with one of our non-operative pain management physicians. In some cases, your neck and arm pain may require surgery. Surgery depends on the specific neck condition causing your symptoms.

Neck, shoulder and arm pain prevention
To avoid pain in the neck, shoulder and arm, be sure to:

  • Exercise
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintain good posture
  • Avoid smoking

Learn more about treatment options for neck and back pain at OrthoIndy.

The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief cover

The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief

Find out what's causing your back pain and how you can treat it with OrthoIndy's ultimate guide to healing back pain.

Read the guide

Megan Golden

By Megan Golden

Megan is the current marketing specialist for OrthoIndy. Megan graduated from Ball State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising and a communications studies minor and has been with OrthoIndy since then.

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