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.
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.
Neck pain that is accompanied by arm pain is usually caused by:
- Pain in the neck 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 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.
Some neck and arm pain can be treated with nonsurgical options such as:
- Physical therapy
- Over the counter medications
- Prescription pain medications
- Muscle relaxers
- Epidural steroid injections
In some cases, your neck and arm pain may require surgery. Surgery depends on the specific neck condition causing your symptoms.
Neck and Arm Pain Prevention
To avoid neck and arm pain, be sure to:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Maintain good posture
- Avoid smoking