Symptoms of pain or tingling in the shoulder, arm, and/or hand are very common in many of the patients we care for at Virginia Spine Institute. There may be several reasons for these symptoms.
All of the nerves that supply the muscles and sensation to the arm originate in the neck. If there is compression of the nerves in the neck, the entire arm can be affected. Common symptoms of nerve compression include pain with neck motion, typically electric pain down the arm, numbness, and potentially muscle weakness. Depending on the nerve that is involved, these symptoms usually start in the neck and can involve the shoulder, upper arm, forearm, hand, or even all of them.
A rotator cuff is a group of shoulder muscles that help support the shoulder and assist with arm rotation. If these muscles are injured, pain can occur with shoulder movement. The pain can radiate down the arm, oftentimes with overhead activity, but usually all the way into the forearm. Numbness is usually not associated with rotator cuff problems
This occurs when there are problems with the ulnar nerve, also known as the “funny bone.” The usual causes of this are due to holding the elbow in a flexed position for too long, which stretches the nerve, or directly putting pressure on the funny bone. Patients experience numbness and tingling that starts at the elbow and shoots down into the pinky and ring finger. Be wary of playing on your cellphone too long or bad sleeping positions since these put your elbow in extreme flexion!
This occurs when a nerve in your wrist, called the median nerve, becomes compressed. This nerve is vulnerable in the wrist because it travels in an enclosed space, the so-called carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome can be due to a variety of reasons but repetitive activity is the most common identifiable reason that I see in the office. Oftentimes, however, there is no specific underlying cause. Patients experience numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, middle, and part of the ring finger.
Accurately diagnosing the cause of your arm pain is the first step to finding a treatment that will eliminate the pain!
Dr. Colin Haines is a board certified spine surgeon and the Director of Research at Virginia Spine Institute. Dr. Haines performed the world’s first combined endoscopic and robot-guided spine surgery. His patient success has earned him a national feature on The Today Show and WebMD, and Top Doctor recognition in consecutive years. Learn more about Dr. Haines.