I’m having numbness and tingling in my hand. Sometimes there is pain that runs down my arm and shoulder. I thought I had carpal tunnel syndrome. Someone told me it could be coming from my neck. What does this mean?
Not all hand numbness is carpal tunnel syndrome. The symptoms you describe are typically caused from a nerve injury or irritation. The nerves that go to your arm start at your neck. If the nerve is being irritated or compressed at your neck, this is called cervical radiculopathy.
What causes cervical radiculopathy? I haven’t done anything to my neck.
The nerves that go to your arms exit the spinal cord through the spaces between bones in your neck. The bones have cushions between them called discs. A nerve can be compressed if the disc material is pressing on the nerve or if the bones develop spurs from arthritis, making the opening for the nerve small. Sometimes the joints in the spine can become inflamed and cause nerve irritation.
How can I tell if my symptoms are coming from my neck?
Let’s perform an experiment to see if we can figure it out.
- Notice what you feel in your arm right now. Is it numb? Tingling? Shooting pains? How intense is it?
- Now, look down at your left foot, then look down at your right foot. Any changes in how you feel? Better, worse or no different?
- Look up as if a bird flew over your left shoulder. Now, do the same for the right shoulder. Any change in how you feel? Better, worse or no different?
If the position of your head/neck changes how you feel in your hand, the problem could be coming from your neck. Let’s try one more thing.
- Reach with one arm as if you are the driver of a car reaching behind the passenger seat. Is that better, worse or no different? What if you reach with the other arm in the same way? Any change in how you feel in your hand with that motion?
The nerves in your arm can be stretched by reaching motions and may indicate nerve irritation somewhere along their path – possibly at the neck or down your arm.
If you experience hand numbness, tingling, pain or weakness with motion of your neck or reaching behind you with your arm, an evaluation by a hand surgeon may help to identify if the source is from your neck. A certified hand therapist can teach you ways to reduce nerve compression and tension.
To find a certified hand therapist in your area, simply click on the link below:
Kim Kraft, PT, DPT, CHT is a certified hand therapist and a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists.