Arm pain caused by a pinched nerve is often the result of nerve compression in the cervical spine. The nerves in your arms exit out of the spine in your neck. If these nerves become pinched, either due to swelling, a slipped disc or degenerative changes in the spinal column, pain can radiate down one or both arms. Depending on the cause, treatment can be conservative, or may require surgery.
Apply an ice pack to the area where your neck and shoulder meet as a first line of defense, and keep it in place for about 20 minutes. If it gets uncomfortable, add a layer of fabric between your skin and the ice pack, such as a kitchen towel or a washcloth. This should decrease any initial swelling in and around the soft tissues resulting from a pinched nerve.
Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. In addition to ice, anti-inflammatory medications can also reduce pinched nerve pain. This should not only help reduce swelling further (especially in the areas too deep for the ice to penetrate), but can also help relieve some of the pain sensations from the pinched nerve.
Take a stronger painkiller if pain is not relieved by an ice pack or an anti-inflammatory. Some examples include stronger anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. Visit your doctor to see what other painkillers he recommends. In cases of severe pain, your doctor might prescribe temporary narcotics.
Get a steroid injection. In some cases, arm pain caused by a pinched nerve may be too severe to treat with medications alone. The next line of defense your doctor will often suggest is a steroid injection into the area where the nerve is pinched. This injection, usually cortisone, will be administered to your neck or shoulder area. Steroid injections are often more effective at controlling pain and reducing swelling than conventional medications.
See a physical therapist. Physical therapists are skilled at performing different modalities to treat pinched nerve pain. These include stretching, massage and/or manual therapy to relax tense muscles in the neck and arm. They may also use deep heat and/or ice (or even alternate the two), ultrasound therapy or electrical stimulation. Physical therapists are also trained to provide neck traction, which can help reduce pressure on a pinched nerve in the neck. They are often the next line of defense if a cortisone injection does not work.
Have surgery, if necessary. The National Institutes of Health report that most cases of arm pain from a pinched nerve resolve within four to six weeks using the conservative methods of treatment listed above. However, in some cases, surgical intervention is the answer. This is certainly rare, and according to Spine Universe only happens in about five percent of all cases. Your doctor will try the methods above before resorting to any surgical procedures.