Acute and sudden upper back pain, neck pain, or shoulder pain can be inconvenient symptoms that can upend your entire day. However, it can become immediately destressing once the arm or hand experiences numbness or tingling alongside the upper back pain. This may signal any unseen damage in the nerves or underlying medical conditions that need immediate attention.
So why does upper back pain happen with numbness in the arm? A common cause of these upsetting symptoms lies in damage, inflammation, and other issues in the nerves that connect the arm and the hand to the neck or in the shoulder like a pinched nerve, cervical radiculopathy, and medical conditions that arise due to physical trauma or bodily processes.
When the nerve roots in the spine are injured or pressed by bulging spinal bones or degrading cervical discs, this causes a pinched nerve or otherwise known as radiculopathy. Since the spinal cord is connected with the limbs through nerve tissues, any compression or damage in the nerves in the upper back or cervical spine may also cause tingling or numbness in the arm and hands.
The upper back pain may be felt if you move your neck, shoulder, or spine when adjusting posture or simply doing activities. This will cause the bones in the back to continually pressure the nearby nerves, causing upper back pain and arm numbness. The tingling in the form of the “pins and needles” sensation and the numbness that follows afterward can also be felt in the neck, shoulder, chest, elbow, wrist, and hand.
Extraneous physical use or specific medical conditions could even spread upper back pain to chest pain, arm pain, or even hand pain. Hence, it is best to treat it as soon as possible. It can subside with ample time to rest, but leaving a pinched nerve without treatment may result in chronic pain and permanent damage to the inflamed nerve.
These are the common conditions ailments that result in upper back pain accompanied by numbness in the arm and the hand. They continue to perpetuate and strengthen the nerve pain in the cervical spine or spinal cord.
Stress, brought on by emotions or psychological conditions, is a considerable factor in upper back pain. When continuous stress is experienced, the patient may feel unable to seek proper treatment for any additional symptoms that come with upper back pain. If the stress levels of a patient lower, it may reduce the duration and severity of upper back pain, thereby lessening arm numbness.
Herniation in the spine is a condition where a part of a bone disc within the spinal cord is pushed out of place. If the cervical disc—or a section in the cervical spine—is herniated because of degrading bone structure, physical trauma, or abnormal bone growth, it will lead to a pinched nerve in the neck or cervical radiculopathy.
The duration of neck pain from cervical radiculopathy can last for a couple of days or can turn into chronic pain if the underlying causes are not dealt with. Treatments are given to help cope with the symptoms so that the pinched nerve may heal naturally.
Foraminal stenosis, or spinal stenosis in the neck, is another condition that is caused by excessive bone growth in the cervical spine. A pinched nerve is produced through an outgrown bone spur in the cervical region. The compressed nerve will lead to numbness and weakness in the shoulder blades, arm, hand, and upper back pain focused on the neck.
While a pinched or compressed nerve may cause two different sensations, it may develop into a pain in the arm if no direct treatment has lowered the inflammation and compression in the treated area. Instead of tingling or numbness, the pain from the lower back will suddenly extend to the arm.
If no rest or medication is done to resolve the inflammation in the pinched nerve in the neck, the numbness may evolve into chronic nerve pain. The tingling and numbness are replaced with a burning or stabbing sensation if the neck is in motion or in an awkward posture. If fluid leaks or continuous swelling continues in the injured area, it could create permanent nerve damage.
The thoracic outlet is an area in the base of the neck, located between the collarbones and the topmost rib. If there is sustained physical trauma or frequent use of that area, it may cause thoracic outlet syndrome where the nerves and blood veins under the neck are inflamed and compressed by the tissues.
If the nerves are compressed, it is classified as Neurogenic TOS and causes shoulder pain, neck pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness throughout the arms and fingers. If the veins are compressed along with the nerves, additional symptoms will occur such as paler hands and weaker pulses across the arm. Without treatment, the numbness may transition into pain as the damage in the nerves and veins has not healed.
Myofascial pain syndrome is a collection of misidentified pain throughout the limbs and upper back caused by frequent muscle use. There are areas in strained and worn-out muscle fibers called trigger points that are incredibly sensitive. If pressure is applied in the trigger points, the brain may accurately signal the nerves in a different body part, causing persistent and aching pain far from the actual damaged area.
With the several conditions that derive from enduring pain and inflammation from a pinched nerve, it is integral to be aware of the most common sources of nerve damage and injury in the neck, shoulder, and arm. The pain and numbness from the arm may even be mistaken for being sourced from upper back pain and may need separate or similar treatment for it.
While intensive physical activity is essential to a healthy lifestyle, overworking the limbs may do more harm than good. In the arm, the burning out of the tendons in the arm may result in a golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow that induces weakness, numbness, and tingling in the arm, hand, and fingers. Consult a trainer or a pain specialist to incorporate arm and upper back stretches for a proper cool-down routine after exercise and before sleeping to promote straight spine alignment.
The main cause of a pinched nerve is inflammation—the body’s natural healing process. Fluids and proteins are sent to damaged tissue, causing it to swell up and compress nearby nerves. Try to avoid any injuries in the neck and the spinal cord to prevent a pinched nerve. This is why most treatments are designed to lessen inflammation to a minimal level so that its side effects like swelling and pain will not disturb your daily life.
Muscle knots or trigger points are created by not moving the body. If the patient is suited to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, their muscles will slowly lose volume, flexibility, and toughness, thereby constricting the nerves in the limbs. This may develop into myofascial pain syndrome if these muscle knots are not loosened through physical therapy or stress management.
Regularly utilizing your muscles in their proper capabilities is the best prevention of upper back pain. However, in the case that you may develop a pinched nerve and other similar complications, there are several treatments available that can provide effective pain relief in the upper back.
The best medication for upper back pain relief is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, and mefenamic acid. These over-the-counter pills will decrease the inflammation and irritation in a pinched nerve. Consult a doctor or pain specialist for which pills to take to avoid any side effects from frequent use.
A physical therapist can directly treat strained muscles, poor posture, tightened areas, or loose or underused limbs to ease any nerve compression and inflamed areas in the body. This can be in the form of personalized exercise plans, chiropractic care, and electrical muscle stimulation. This will naturally increase the muscle’s tolerance to periodic activity and constant motion.
A direct form of anti-inflammatory treatment is steroid injection or corticosteroid injections. These hormonal injections will boost the body’s immune system and, in the process, diminish any inflammation in the pained area. Depending on the location of the pinched nerve, it can be applied in the shoulder blade, spinal cord, elbow, and wrist.
Consult a doctor if the upper back pain has persisted for more than 2 weeks or has increased to severe pain levels despite direct treatment. If arm numbness suddenly appears after an injury along with upper back pain, it is recommended to consult a doctor or a pain specialist to pinpoint where the location of the pinched nerve and the best treatment for it.
Arm numbness can be an alarming symptom as it signals nerve compression or damage in the neck or spinal cord. Though it won’t immediately spread to the rest of the body, it is highly recommended to seek treatment for your upper back pain to prevent any further nerve damage.
At Gramercy Pain Center, we can provide a specialized pain management plan suited for your needs. We offer minimally invasive procedures and effective treatments to successfully relieve a pinched nerve. Book a consultation with our top pain specialists online to experience a pain-free life.