Ever had pain radiating from your neck to your shoulder and even down your arm? Perhaps losing strength in your arm or a feeling of numbness or tingling in the fingers? Chances are that you have irritated a nerve in your neck and that nerve is sending these painful or distressing symptoms down your arm.
Here's the technical stuff...
The neck, or cervical spine, is comprised of the top seven vertebrae of the spine. These vertebrae form a solid yet mobile structure - solid to encase the spinal cord which runs down the centre of the spine, and mobile as the vertebrae move as the neck bends and rotates. In between each vertebrae there is an opening called the intervertebral foramen, and it is here where the nerves that branch off the spinal cord exit the spine. These are called the nerve roots and the ones from the lower half of the neck form the nerves that travel into the arm, providing power to the muscles and sensation to the skin.
There are some areas where the nerve is more vulnerable to becoming pinched in the neck. The intervertebral foramen where it exits the spine is the first. Anything that encroaches on this space such as a disc bulge or a bone spur can reduce the space available for the nerve causing compression. Then the nerve travels between some tightly packed muscles in the neck so any increase in tension in these muscles can also cause compression of the nerve as it moves through this area. Nerves can also be pinched as they run through the shoulder so they could be injured with any trauma to the shoulder.
Nerves like to have space to slide and glide so if at any point in its pathway the nerve is compressed or pinched, then the nerve signal can be affected and as a result we can experience some of the symptoms mentioned - sharp pain, limited movement in the neck or arm, and sometimes reduced sensation or power in the arm.
What can be done about it?
If these symptoms ring a bell with you, a physiotherapist can perform a series of tests that will determine exactly which nerve is irritated and where it is getting pinched. The location of your symptoms or the specific muscles that are painful or have lost power will help to determine the area of your neck that needs to be treated.
Some of the techniques I use to treat pinched nerves are traction and mobilisation to ‘unpinch’ the nerve, and Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) to stimulate the nerve in order to fully restore the nerve signal. Once your neck and the nerve can move freely again, then the pain will subside and you be able to function normally again.