Our spine is made up of twenty-four individual vertebra stacked on top of each other. To allow for flexibility and movement, there is a cushion, or “disc” in between each pair of vertebra. As we age, these discs can wear, becoming progressively thinner over time. This leads to a cycle of arthritic changes, including bone spurs and narrowing of the opening where our nerves exit the spine. Sometimes your nerves can become “pinched” in these narrowed openings. This results in pain, numbness or tingling into your arm along the path of the irritated nerve.
This problem is common, affecting half of the population by age 40 and up to 85% percent of the population by age 60, with men affected slightly more often than women. Symptoms of this type of arthritis include pain or numbness in your neck, arm or shoulder area. Neck stiffness, limited range of motion and headaches are common. Some patients report temporary relief when placing their affected hand on top of their head.
You should avoid prolonged reading or sustained positions where your head is rotated, laterally flexed or looking up. Avoid any position that causes an increase in radiating pain. Avoid high impact activities, like running, when they cause any increase in pain. Low impact activities like walking, water aerobics and yoga may be helpful.