Neck pain can occur for a variety of reasons, but neck pain radiating down the arm and back is usually a sign of a pinched nerve. This issue can occur due to an issue like spinal stenosis or a herniated disc. Range-of-motion and strengthening exercises can help prevent and treat pinched nerves.
Treating a Pinched Nerve
As the nerves in your body branch off from your spinal cord, they pass through the spaces between your spinal vertebrae. If these spaces get smaller, Harvard Health Publishing says that they can constrict around the nerve root. According to an April 2016 study in the World Wide Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, this can occur due to any force that's applied to the nerve from the bone, cartilage, muscles,or tendons surrounding it.
This issue results in a pinched nerve — which Cedars Sinai says is formally known as radiculopathy. This issue can cause feelings of weakness, numbness and tingling, as well as neck pain radiating down the arm or back. A person may also experience worsening arm pain when tilting the head back, moving it from side to side or rotating it.
The vast majority of pinched nerves occur because of age-related degenerative changes. However, the Mayo Clinic says that they can also occur following exercise or certain sporting activities. Pinched nerves may also be associated with repetitive movements, certain health conditions and obesity.
Fortunately, most pinched nerves are easily treated. Harvard Health Publishing says that treatment typically involves some type of pain relief medication. Using a cervical collar or pillow, which can allow your neck to rest and heal, can also be helpful.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist if you have a painful pinched nerve. They can advise you on treatment options and strengthening exercises to help prevent this issue from occurring again.
Once you're in less pain, your healthcare practitioner will likely recommend specific physical therapy exercises that can help strengthen and stretch your neck and back muscles. They will also typically recommend range-of-motion and strengthening exercises for a pinched nerve in the shoulder or neck.
Exercises for a Pinched Nerve
According to an August 2013 review published in the journal Physical Therapy, neck pain is one of the most common issues people experience. Fortunately, stretching and strengthening your neck can help provide pain relief.
However, if you're suffering from neck pain radiating down your arm and back, you'll need to take it easy with your exercises. Start with gentle exercises, like stretches and yoga, and work your way up to strengthening exercises.
If you aren't able to do any of these exercises because of the neck pain radiating down the neck and back, it's OK to start off doing fewer sets or reps.
Move 1: Head Rotation
- Slowly turn your head to the side so that you're looking over your shoulder.
- Repeat the same movement so that you're looking over your other shoulder.
- Repeat 10 times.
Move 2: Shoulder Rotation
- Raise your shoulders; then slowly roll them back so that you're squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Roll your shoulders down and around.
- Repeat 10 times.
Move 3: Neck Retraction
- Pull your head forward so that your chin touches your chest.
- Hold the stretch for 60 seconds or as long as you can.
- Relax and repeat five times.
Move 4: Neck Extension
- Kneel down over a bench, so that your chest is resting on the bench.
- Put your hands behind your head.
- Lift your neck so that you're hyperextending it and then lower it until your chin touches your upper chest. You'll essentially be doing raised crunches over the bench.
- Repeat 12 times; then rest. Try to complete two or three reps.
This exercise can be done with an additional weight if you wish. If you use a weight, balance it behind your head.
Is This an Emergency?
- ExRx.net: "Weighted Neck Extension"
- Physical Therapy: "Effect of Therapeutic Exercise on Pain and Disability in the Management of Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials"
- Mayo Clinic: "Pinched Nerve"
- Cedars Sinai: "Pinched Nerve"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Treating a Pinched Nerve"
- World Wide Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development: "A Knowledge Based System for Neck Pain Diagnosis"