Causes of Neck Pain and Arm Pain:
Neck pain can be caused by a variety of issues, but most are due to normal aging. The neck is made up of seven bones stacked on top of each other, with cushioning discs in between each bone, and two small joints in the back of the neck at each level. The discs and these joints tend to wear down as we age and can be sources of pain. This process is very common and is present in over 85% of people over the age of 60 (1). Most people do not have symptoms despite these changes. Other issues that can cause problems with your neck include injuries, infection, tumors, congenital issues (things you were born with), or other degenerative processes.
Arm pain due to a neck issue can be caused by similar factors. The normal aging process can cause the bony tunnels where the nerves exit the spine to be narrowed. This can cause irritation of the nerve and trigger a variety of symptoms in the arms. These symptoms can include pain, numbness, and weakness that extend from the neck into the arm.
Normal aging, disc degeneration, injuries, infections or tumors can also cause tightness around the spinal cord itself in the neck. This usually presents differently than tightness around individual nerves. This can present with numbness or weakness of the arms and/or legs, abnormal reflexes, clumsiness of the hands, or trouble with balance while walking.
Treatment for Neck Pain and Arm Pain:
Treatments for neck and arm pain vary depending on the cause. The goal is to treat these issues without surgery if possible. These non-surgical treatments include anti-inflammatory medications and other medications, physical therapy and other treatments such as chiropractic treatment, and specific steroid-based injections by a certified pain specialist. If these measures fail to treat the problem, surgery may be recommended. However, not all patients with neck and arm pain are surgical candidates as the pain may be related to another issue. There are a variety of surgical options and techniques, depending on the problem. Please consider making an appointment at Missoula Bone & Joint to be evaluated for treatment if you have been dealing with neck or arm pain.
1. Cervical Spondylosis – Arthritis of the Neck. OrthoInfo. www.aaos.org.
By Zackery Witte, MD, Spine Surgeon at Missoula Bone & Joint