Tandem Physical Therapy

Could Your Arm Pain Be Coming From A "Pinched" Nerve?

Recently, a patient (we’ll call her “Susan”) arrived in our clinic complaining of pain in her thumb that radiated up her arm. As Susan was describing the pain, she used her opposite hand to trace along a specific path where she felt the pain. She started by grabbing her thumb, tracing up the forearm, into the upper arm and ended near the top of the shoulder.

She went on to tell me about how she has worked at a desk for over 15 years, staring at computer screen and flipping through files all day, every day. She even pointed out a more noticeable curve setting in at her upper back and trouble turning her head without pain.

Earlier that week she had become more concerned about it and decided to go see her doctor who recommended steroids and an x-ray of her thumb. She wasn’t thrilled about the steroids and the other prescription anti-inflammatories that would follow, but that was the only help the doctor had offered.

Susan, not having any medical training or background, had not connected the dots and was assuming her arm pain was coming from an arthritic thumb. This was NOT the case, however – she had classic signs of a pinched nerve in her neck. When she arrived at our clinic the following week, she had no idea what we do and how we could help her.

I explained to Susan her mysterious “thumb pain” was actually the result of a pinched nerve in her neck. I showed her a picture of the connections between her thumb and neck where the problem was and explained that we help people with these same exact problems all the time. Our first job is to find the root of the problem and that ultimately everything we would do would be to ensure she could work comfortably again without pain. Her goal was make it to her retirement in a couple years without relying on long-term anti-inflammatories, pain medications or needing a surgery along the way.

When patients come to see us for pain in their arm, the first thing we do is identify exactly where it’s coming from. It’s easy to mistake a pinched nerve for tennis elbow, shoulder pain or in this case thumb arthritis. We start by listening to your problems and asking questions to fully understand the situation. Next, we conduct a thorough physical examination to determine where the pain is coming from and explain that to you in a way that’s easy to understand. At that point, we offer you our best advice on how to solve the problem and get back to a “normal” life.

If you’re concerned about pain in your arm and want to know more about what could be wrong and ways we can help, give us a call at (504) 407-3477

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