This is ‘sciatica of the arm’ i.e arm pain. Arm pain, due to pressure on the cervical spinal nerve roots, is termed brachalgia. Pressure on the spinal cord is typically painless; the spinal cord is numb but our spinal nerve roots are far from numb – slipped discs, when impinging on nerve roots in the neck, can hurt a lot.
An example of brachalgia is when a cervical disc prolapse occurs, increasing pressure on the spinal canal and its exiting spinal nerve roots which go to supply the arms.
This in turn can produce symptoms such as pain in the arms or numbness and clumsiness of the arms and hands. Through surgery, we can remove the offending disc prolapse – this is referred to as a discectomy.
Any pain felt below the elbow comes from the nerves being pressed on. By contrast any pain felt centrally in the back of the neck will be coming directly from the discs, facet joints and muscles of the neck. However, the bit in between is not so simple. Pain felt to one side of the spine, in the shoulder or upper arm is in ‘everyman’s land’ and may reflect poor localisation of spinal pain or limited referral of nerve pain. We will need to find out which- it may be both. The prolapses or narrowings in the cervical spine that give rise to a sensation of pain in the arm, (brachalgia), may also induce loss of function in the nerve root and hence numbness or weakness affecting the arm and hand.