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Upper Extremity Pain

Pain, Numbness, Tingling, and Weakness of the Upper Extremities


When a patient is experiencing pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms or hands and they do not have a distinct injury in the same area, there are typically three possible causes for those symptoms. The first cause is nerve irritation. The second cause is decreased circulation or some type of blood flow problem. The third cause is musculoskeletal pain referral. In my clinical experience nerve irritation has been the cause of these symptoms a majority of the time. This page will discuss nerve irritation as a cause of upper extremity pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. Click here for more information regarding musculoskeletal pain referral.

Skin sensation (pain, numbness, tingling) reflexes and muscle control are all controlled by nerves. Nerve damage or irritation can cause alterations with any or all of those three functions. An example of nerve irritation is hitting your "funny bone." When one "hits their funny bone," they are actually hitting a nerve that passes through the under side of the elbow. This direct pressure irritates the nerve causing numbness and tingling in the pinky and ring fingers, both areas where that nerve travels to. The nerves in the arm are very long, traveling from your neck all the way to your fingertips. They can be irritated anywhere along their pathway.

Below are a few examples of possible causes of nerve irritation in the upper extremities.

Intervertebral Disc Injuries

As a nerve exits the spine it passes by the intervertebral disc. If there is a disc bulge, protrusion, or herniation injury the disc may be touching the nerve causing irritation. Even if the disc injury is not causing the disc to touch the nerve, it can irritate the nerve by crowding it. The disc injury may also cause a chemical reaction leading to nerve irritation. For more details about disc injuries click here.

What are a few possible causes of an Intervertebral Disc Injury?

  1. Auto accidents
  2. Falling down
  3. Using improper lifting techniques while lifting a heavy object

Traumatic Spinal Sprain/Strain Injury

As a nerve exits the spine and after it passes the intervertebral disc it then passes the spinal facet joint. If the spinal facet joints have been injured there can be excessive fluid from swelling that may apply pressure by crowding the nerve. There may also be tight or spasmed muscles that apply pressure on the nerve. For more details about sprain/strain injuries click here.

What are a few possible causes of a Traumatic Spinal Sprain/Strain Injury?

  1. Car accidents
  2. Falling down
  3. Riding a roller coaster
  4. Sustaining a blow to the head (boxing/fighting)
  5. Using improper lifting techniques while lifting a heavy object

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome is an example of both nerve irritation and decreased blood flow causing numbness and tingling in the arm. The "thoracic outlet" is an area between your neck and shoulder where all of the major nerves and blood vessels converge and begin to travel down the arm. If the nerves and blood vessels are pinched or compressed this will irritate the nerve and decrease the blood flow.

What are a few possible causes of a Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

  1. Muscle spasm or tightness in specific neck and upper chest muscles
  2. Alterations in positioning of upper ribs and the collar bone
  3. Having an extra rib above the normal first rib
  4. Fibrous adhesions in the thoracic outlet area

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The carpal tunnel is an area in the wrist. It is described as a tunnel because the 8 bones in the wrist form an arch, like the arch of a tunnel. A major nerve that supplies the hand travels under the carpal tunnel. If the carpal tunnel collapses the bones of the wrist apply direct pressure to the nerve underneath it. This irritates the nerves causing numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand. Nerve conduction testing is the best way to definitively diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome.

What are a few possible causes of a Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

  1. Repetitive or sustained extension of the wrist (typing)
  2. Repetitive gripping or pressure on the wrist
  3. Wrist fracture or dislocation from trauma
  4. Growths in the wrist (ganglion cyst, lipoma, etc.)
  5. Extra fluid from swelling




DISCLAIMER: The information that appears on TheInjuryDoctors.com is presented to our prospective Las Vegas, NV patients who may have sustained injuries related to trauma from car accidents or other sources. The information is presented in summary form only and is intended to provide general understanding of neck injury and back injury topics. The information should not be used in place of a visit, call or consultation with a qualified neck and back doctor with specific training and certification to treat neck and back injuries related to car accidents, falls, or genetic predispositions. TheInjuryDoctors.com does not recommend the self-management of neck and back pain or injury. Information obtained by using TheInjuryDoctors.com is not exhaustive and does not cover all possible risks, ailments, or physical conditions related to car accident injuries or other neck and back injuries. Contact this office to schedule a consultation.

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