The medical terminology for this is Cervical Radiculopathy but most people refer to it as a pinched or trapped nerve in the neck.
This condition gives rise to severe and constant pain in the arm, often going all the way down to and affecting the hand. In most cases the arm pain is so strong that it is not even touched by painkillers. It’s often associated with tingling or pins and needles in the hand, numbness and even weakness of the shoulder, arm or hand.
These symptoms are not the same as those that come from ‘mechanical neck pain’ which by far is the most common form of neck problem diagnosed.
‘Mechanical neck pain’ usually starts in the neck and may spread to and include the upper back/shoulder and upper arm. It rarely extends below the elbow.
The two most common causes of Cervical Radiculopathy are disc herniation and Degeneration (aka wear and tear).
Cervical Disc herniation:
Tends to happen to people aged between 30-50 years but fortunately is not that common.
The intervertebral disc sits in the space between the bones which make up the spine. The disc normally acts as a shock absorber. It is made of two parts. The centre, called the nucleus pulposus, which is spongy and provides most of the shock absorption and the outer strong ligament rings surrounding it, called the annulus fibrosus.
A disc herniation happens when there is a weakness or injury to the outer fibers allowing some of the spongy material to ‘run out’ causing pressure/irritation to the nerve root as it leaves the spine.
Cervical Degeneration (aka osteoarthritis)
As the spine ages, several changes happen to the bones and soft tissues. The disc loses its water content and may begin to collapse, causing the space between the vertebrae to narrow. This causes the space where the nerve exits the spine to become smaller and may lead to cervical radiculopathy or spinal stenosis (trapped nerve).
A thorough history and examination will help in identifying the cause of the pain and the appropriate treatment for you.