A cervical disc herniation may originate from trauma or injury to the cervical spine, but symptoms often start spontaneously. Arm pain from a cervical herniated disc results because the herniated disc material pinches or presses on a cervical nerve, causing pain to radiate along the nerve pathway down the arm. Along with the pain, numbness and tingling can be present down the arm and into the fingertips. Muscle weakness may also be present.
Symptoms: A cervical herniated disc will typically cause pain patterns and neurological deficits as follows:
C5 (C5 nerve root):
Can cause weakness in the deltoid muscle in the upper arm. Does not usually cause numbness or tingling. Can cause shoulder pain.
C6 (C6 nerve root):
Can cause weakness in the biceps (muscles in the front of the upper arms) and wrist extensor muscles. Numbness and tingling along with pain can radiate to the thumb side of the hand. This is one of the most common levels for a cervical disc herniation to occur.
C7 (C7 nerve root):
Can cause weakness in the triceps (muscles in the back of the upper arm and extending to the forearm) and the finger extensor muscles. Numbness and tingling along with pain can radiate down the triceps and into the middle finger. This is also one of the most common levels for a cervical disc herniation.
T1 (C8 nerve root):
Can cause weakness with handgrip. Numbness, tingling and pain can radiate down the arm to the little finger side of hand.
Cervical kyphosis, sometimes called military neck, occurs when the normal curve of the neck begins to straighten. Cervical kyphosis can progress to the point where the curve in the neck actually reverses, going in the opposite direction from its normal state, aptly called a reverse curve. A loss of the cervical curve results in a forward head posture, which can limit movement and cause pain.
In order to maintain a normal curve in the neck, all the cervical structures (vertebrae, discs, muscles, tendons and ligaments) must be strong and healthy. Damage to any of these structures can lead to cervical kyphosis. Damage can be caused by traumatic injuries, such as whiplash or fractures, or can occur more slowly over time, such as poor posture, disc degeneration or arthritis. Conservative treatment can be very effective in alleviating the symptoms associated with a loss of the cervical curve, and may also be helpful in restoring the normal curve.
Mechanical Neck Pain
Mechanical neck pain refers to pain related to the structure of the neck and occurs when one of the joints in the cervical spine loses its normal joint mobility (resiliency and shock absorption). When a joint develops dysfunction, its normal movement may be affected and a vicious cycle of muscle imbalance and muscle pain emerges. The loss of joint mobility can cause abnormal signals to the nervous system (there are an abundance of nerve receptors in the joint). The muscles related to that joint can subsequently become tense or, conversely, underactive. This muscle imbalance can place increased stress on the joint, aggravating the joint dysfunction that already exists, resulting in pain and further dysfunction.
Cervical Sprains & Strains
A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament, the fibrous band of connective tissue that joins the end of one bone to another. Ligaments stabilize and support the body’s joints. A sprain is caused by direct or indirect trauma (a fall, a blow to the body, etc.) that knocks a joint out of position, and overstretches, and in severe cases, ruptures the supporting ligaments. Typically this injury occurs when an individual lands on an outstretched arm, slides into a base, jumps up and lands on the side of the foot, or runs on an uneven surface.
A strain is an injury of the muscle and/or tendon. Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone. Chronic strains are the result of overuse (prolonged, repetitive movement) of muscles and tendons. Inadequate rest breaks during intensive training precipitates a strain. Acute strains are caused by a direct blow to the body, overstretching, or excessive muscle contraction. In most cases the mechanism of injury resulting in a sprain or a strain may be the same, it’s just a matter of which tissues are damaged in the injury.
Neck sprains and strains result from injury to the soft tissues of the neck. Most neck sprains and strains are caused by heavy lifting, sleeping in awkward positions, involvement in sports, poor posture or body mechanics, car accidents, and falls. Sprains result from overstretched ligaments in the neck and strains are caused by overuse of a muscle or overstretching the muscles of the neck.
Stingers are common injuries in contact sports. A stinger is an injury to the brachial plexus, the nerve supply of the upper arm, either at the neck or shoulder. This often happens when the head is forcefully pushed sideways and down, or twisted. This bends the neck and compresses, or pinches, the surrounding nerves. The injury is named for the stinging or burning pain that spreads from the base of the skull, to the shoulder or along the neck and to the hand. This can feel like an electric shock or lightning bolt down the arm.
Whiplash – Whiplash is a sudden, moderate-to-severe strain affecting the bones, discs, muscles, nerves, or tendons of the neck. Most cases of whiplash are the result of car accidents or collisions during contact sports. When an unexpected force jerks the head back and then forward, the bones of the neck snap out of position and irritated nerves can interfere with flow of blood and transmission of nerve impulses. Whiplash can also irritate the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the neck. The forces involved in whiplash injuries can be great enough to result in a loss of the normal curve of the cervical spine, or even reversing the curve, and can cause a number of symptoms including:
Pain or stiffness in the neck, jaw, shoulders, or arms
Numbness or tingling in an arm or hand
Nausea and vomiting