How to Troubleshoot Your Arm Pain

I frequently have clients and family members ask me questions about their arm pain, so today’s post comes from a question:  If I have arm pain, how do I figure out what I should do for it?

The Trouble with Arm Pain

Whenever you have a pain in your shoulder, arm, or hand; you need to first be aware that the nerves for these areas come from the cervical spine. This means that if your neck is a little out of whack, you could be compressing (and therefore irritating) a nerve that runs to one of these areas.

First things first. Check your neck.

In a previous post about the cervical spine, I talked about the duties of each cervical vertebrae. When you’re troubleshooting for pain, you need to know that:

  • C5 controls the muscles in your shoulders, upper arm, and possibly forearm. This includes the deltoids and biceps.
  • C6 controls the wrist extensors and also can feed into the biceps. The area covered starts at “the top of the shoulders and runs down the side of the arm and into the thumb side of the hand.”
  • C7 controls the triceps and goes from “the shoulder down the back of the arm and into the middle finger.”
  • C8 controls the hands and “covers the lower part of the shoulder and goes down the arm into the pinky side of the hand.”

Before you get busy trying to fix your issue, please go to a health professional to ensure that you don’t have an injury to your neck. You could go to a chiropractor or your doctor. Either one can order imaging if they suspect you have a serious injury.

If your neck is out of alignment, let a chiropractor put it back in place. Frequently, this can end any pain or odd sensations that you may feel.

Once you are certain your neck is not injured and it’s correctly aligned, you can move on to the other joints.

Check out the joint above and the joint below your issue.

Forearm Pain

A while ago, I had a pain in my forearm. My chiropractor checked that my joints were in good alignment, but I was having this pain right below my elbow. Also, my wrist was popping in and out of place pretty easily.

Using my fingers, I made a ring of compression around my forearm. I moved the ring of pressure to different areas of my forearm to check and see if the pain went away. Finally, I discovered that my pain went away when I applied pressure just below my elbow.

With the help of my chiropractor, we discovered that I had over-stretched a tendon. This laxity in the tendon prevented my wrist from being stable. In my case, her advice was for me to get the tendon moved back into the correct place and apply a band to help hold it in place.

Upper Arm or Shoulder Pain

The key to figuring out the cause of your pain (once you have determined that you don’t have a neck or alignment issue) is to learn about your muscles. Try to find exactly where the source of your pain is.

Look at your elbow and shoulder joints. Ensure that all the bones are in the correct place and that the muscles work correctly to hold your body in a neutral structural position. (To learn more about how to assess whether you’re in neutral, check out my posts on assessing your posture and neutral standing posture.)

the shoulder girdleOnce you get yourself into neutral, notice whether your pain goes away or if it’s still present. If your pain goes away, you know you need to strengthen your muscles to hold your body in a neutral position. (For those looking for suggestions on how to strengthen your muscles to hold your shoulder in neutral, check out my posts on neutral scapula placement and an exercise that I call the Shoulder Dance.)

However, if your pain doesn’t go away, you should really go talk to your doctor. Doctors can order the imaging necessary to see if there are any issues with your muscles.

Make smart changes so you don’t injure yourself again.

Whether you’re in the healing process or still in pain, you need to make smart changes so that you don’t injure yourself again (or make your current injury worse). Think about how you’re carrying things like children, books, groceries, bags, or your laundry.

You want to make sure that you’re not over-using one arm. Give both arms the opportunity to work equally, and you’re less likely to injure your arms or shoulders in the future.

Be your own advocate.

As always, I recommend that you pay attention to your pain and talk to health professionals. You are your own best advocate, and only you know exactly how things feel inside your body. So, if you feel like something is wrong or hurting, please talk with health professionals until you get this issue resolved.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.