Numbness in Arm


There can be a number of causes for numbness in any of the arms. These include-

  • Cervical radiculopathy.
  • Peripheral neuropathy.
  • Pressure on brachial plexus.

Other rare possibility is Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, which is common among computer professionals. However, this causes only forearm numbness rather than involving the whole arm.

Cervical Radiculopathy

An injury or degeneration in the vertebrae or disks in the neck (also called cervical vertebrae) could result in pain, numbness or weakness in ones shoulder, arm, wrist or hand. That’s because the nerves that extend out from between the cervical vertebrae provide sensation and trigger movement in these areas. This condition is called cervical radiculopathy.

Several conditions can put pressure on nerve roots in the neck. The most common causes for cervical radiculopathy are:

  1. Herniated cervical disk- In this situation, the outer layer (annulus) of the disk cracks and the gel-like center (nucleus) breaks through. This causes the disk to protrude, putting pressure on the nerve that exits the spinal column at that point.
  2. Spinal stenosis- Sometimes, the space in the center of the vertebrae narrows and squeezes the spinal column and nerve roots.
  3. Degenerative disk disease- As we age, the water content in our body cells diminishes and other chemical changes occur that can cause the disk to shrink. Without sufficient cushioning, the vertebrae may begin to press against each other, pinching the nerve, or to form bony spurs.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your physician will give you a careful examination and ask about your symptom history. You may be asked to extend and rotate your neck and/or arm to reproduce the pain symptoms. An X-ray will usually show any degenerative disk problems. Sometimes an MRI (magnetic resonance image) or a CT scan (computed tomography) using a colored dye to outline the nerves is carried out.

Initial treatment is usually conservative and aims to reduce the pain by easing the pressure on the nerves. The treatment consists of three parts: rest, medication and physical therapy.

  • Rest- You may have to take it easy for a few days or wear a soft cervical collar to limit motion and relieve irritation on the nerves.
  • Medication- A non-narcotic pain medicine and anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve any swelling may be given.
  • Physical therapy- After muscle spasms subside, your orthopedic surgeon may prescribe a cervical traction device. Other types of physical therapy such as heat or cold therapies, electrical stimulation, or isometric and stretching exercises may be useful.

If conservative treatment doesn’t relieve the symptoms over the course of 6 to 12 weeks, surgery may be an option. The surgical procedure will depend on the underlying condition.

Peripheral Neuropathy

This can be due to several conditions like diabetes, vitamin B deficiency and thyroid disorders.
Here the symptoms of numbness, tingling and weakness stay all the time rather than only after sleeping or some particular kind of work.
Treatment is treating the underlying disease.

Brachial Plexus Pressure

It is normally caused by the pressure on the bunch of nerves while it passes through the armpit area. Treatment relies on relieving this pressure. Sometimes just changing the posture may give some relief.

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