That Pain in Your Arm Could Be a Real Pain in the Neck

April 1, 2014


Tug Of War - 2008 Retie - 10

Tug Of War – 2008 Retie – 10 (Photo credit: Alex De Mey)

A recent patient came to me with pain in her shoulder. She said it started with just pain in the shoulder that would come and go, then it became more constant and interfered with her ability to use her arm. After evaluating the patient, I explained that I thought most of the problem was originating from her neck. “But the pain is in my shoulder.” I explained, one thing can lead to another. That pain in your arm is really a pain in the neck.

Nerves are like strings and when tugged at one end can create symptoms anywhere along the course of the string.  Nerves originate from the spine, specifically in the neck or cervical spine for the arm.  Pain caused by conditions such as tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and bursitis in the arm could actually be originating from an undiagnosed condition of the neck called cervical radiculopathy. Cervical radiculopathy is a condition in which a nerve is injured at the site of the cervical nerve root, where it exits the spine. Some people call it a “pinched nerve.” Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy include pain, numbness and tingling or “funny feelings” in the arm, and weakness in the arm or hand. These symptoms can mimic other conditions of the arm and hand such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow. I have even known some patients that had surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome, only to find out afterwards that cervical radiculopathy was contributing to their original symptoms. Don’t let this happen to you or someone you know! Be sure to have your neck evaluated if you are having pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm or hand. It could be a real pain in the neck!

Want to read more about what physical therapy can do for this condition?

Go to JOSPT’s website.  for the article “Neck and Arm Pain: Mechanical Traction and Exercises Prove an Effective Treatment.”



De-La-Llave-Rincon, et al. (2011). Women With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Show Restricted Cervical Range of Motion. JOSPT, 41(5): 305-310.

Fritz et al, titled “Exercise Only, Exercise With Mechanical Traction, or Exercise With Over-Door Traction for Patients With Cervical Radiculopathy, With or Without Consideration of Status on a Previously Described Subgrouping Rule: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2014;44(2):45–57. 

“Neck and Arm Pain: Mechanical Traction and Exercises Prove an Effective Treatment.” J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2014;44(2):58.

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Physical Therapy Orthopaedic Specialist at Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System

My name is Monique Serpas, PT, DPT, OCS. I am a physical therapist and board-certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist practicing at the Southeast Louisiana Healthcare System in New Orleans, LA. I realize how difficult it can be to overcome an injury or manage a chronic condition and am focused on helping my clients achieve wellness through a physically active lifestyle. I treat orthopaedic, balance, and vestibular disorders and practice using a combination of hands-on manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, and education. This enables my patients to assist in their own recovery and injury prevention. I also have developed fall prevention and golf-related rehab programs in the past. I hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Concordia University Wisconsin (2008) and a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from Louisiana State University (2004). I am a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Louisiana Physical Therapy Association (LPTA), and the Orthopaedic and Neurology sections of the APTA.

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