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Arm Pain, Herniated Discs, and Radiculopathy

My patients who present with arm pain usually have seen other physicians prior to being referred to my office for an evaluation. Arm pain may stem from a number of different sources (feel free to Google “arm pain” and you will see the number of potential causes); however, it is frequently associated with a pinched nerve in the neck.

What is a pinched nerve? This is a colloquial term but it usually means a disc herniation within the neck that is pressing or “pinching” the nerve.

Discs within your neck may weaken and some of the gelatinous material inside the disc can become herniated, or extruded into the spinal canal compressing the nerves that travel down into our arms (See my post on herniated discs). These nerves originate in your cervical spine.

A thorough neurologic exam and an MRI exam can confirm this diagnosis. Usually this can improve with medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, a steroid dose pack, or muscle relaxers.

Occasionally a steroid injection may be indicated and occasionally surgery is indicated as well. I treat patients with this condition daily. It is extremely common. Patients young and old may suffer from this condition.

It may initially present as pain traveling down the arm (called radiculopathy) and muscle spasms within the neck region. Or it may present as numbness in the hands and weakness in the arm.

If you suffer from this condition, I recommend seeing a fellowship trained spine surgical specialist for an evaluation and discussion of all treatment options. This is a very treatable condition and there is no reason you should live in pain with a cervical disc herniation.