Patients are often surprised when they find out that a symptom they’re having in one body part really has nothing to do with that body part. The arm is a good example of this. If your arm sometimes feels tight accompanied by random jumping, or pulsations, in the muscle, this arm throbbing may actually have nothing to do with your arm. In fact, it’s more likely that your arm throbbing is due to a nerve issue in your neck. In addition, you might not have any neck symptoms at all. How is this possible?
First, you need to understand that the nerves that supply the arm muscles branch off of the cervical spine in the neck. Let’s review this further.
Irritated Neck Nerves Can Cause Arm Throbbing
In many patients, irritated neck nerves don’t present as a symptom in the neck. In fact, sometimes the only symptoms of irritated nerves in the neck occur in the arm muscles, as either tightness, throbbing, or both. While the arm throbbing might be frustrating as it’s happening, you might not think a whole lot about it, especially if it only happens on occasion. However, ignoring it is not a good idea since it is often a warning signal of a bigger problem in the neck.
When left unaddressed, nerve issues in the neck can cause more serious arm problems, such as tears in tendons (e.g., tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow). Why the tendons? Muscles attach to and move the bones via the tendons. The nerves tell muscles to move, and when the nerves are irritated, slight malfunctions occur in the muscles, shutting down part of the muscle. This creates those tight trigger points, which pull on the tendon attachments between muscle and bone. This causes tendonitis, which can worsen over time and even lead to those tendon tears.
We’ve seen patients with chronic tennis elbow, for example who actually have a pinched nerve in the neck. While their symptoms present as a malfunction in the forearm muscles, the pinched nerve is at the C6 or 7 (cervical spine level 6 or 7) area of the neck as these are the nerves that supply the muscles in the forearm. These patients usually believe they have an elbow problem, when in reality, their elbow problem is just the warning flag, signaling for us to check the neck. This is something your interventional orthopedic physician is well-trained to recognize, and he or she will trace and treat the source of the arm throbbing, not just the arm itself. It wouldn’t do you much good for us to treat your tennis elbow, for example, if the source of the problem is an irritated nerve in your neck.
Address Arm Throbbing (and Neck Nerves) with Orthobiologics
Continuing to look at tennis elbow, typically a surgical treatment involves cutting the elbow tendon to release arm tightness. Knowing now that a nerve in the neck is often the culprit for arm issues, we probably don’t have to explain why this surgery would be a bad idea. It does explain, however, why many patients will still struggle with pain, tightness, or throbbing in the same location even after surgery: the surgery didn’t address the true cause of the tennis elbow.
Arm throbbing – especially arm throbbing at night – might be irritating, but more often than not, it’s not a sign that you have an arm problem—in most cases, it’s telling you to have your neck checked. Most importantly, don’t let a surgeon cut into your arm without making sure you have a thorough exam of your neck first. Also make sure you see an interventional orthopedics physician to find out what your nonsurgical options are for your arm throbbing and your irritated neck nerve.
What Else Could Be Causing Your Throbbing Arm?
Common Cervical Radiculopathy symptoms include neck pain, arm pain, shoulder pain radiating down arm to fingers, numbness, tingling, and weakness. Cervical Radiculopathy is a clinical condition in which a nerve or nerves in your neck become irritated or compressed. It is also known as ” a pinched nerve,” The causes are discussed below. It can affect individuals of any age with peak prominence between ages 40-50 years of age. Cervical Radiculopathy is due to spinal nerve inflammation, irritation, or compression. The most common causes of Cervical Radiculopathy are: Disc Injury – The disc is an important shock absorber. Unfortunately, it is susceptible to injury.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) refers to a group of disorders that affect the body’s connective tissue including skin, tendons, and ligaments. It is a hereditary disorder which means you are born with it. EDS has many different signs and symptoms which can vary significantly from patient to patient. It most commonly affects the skin, joints, and blood vessels. The estimated prevalence for all EDS varies between 1/10,000 and 1/25,000. The three most common types of EDS are: Hypermobile, Classic, and Vascular. We have used these skills and knowledge to treat the loose ligaments commonly found in EDS in children. Treatment options include bone marrow concentrate (BMC) and PRP.
Injury or inflammation of the cervical facet can led to neck, shoulder and headache pain – called “cervical facet syndrome.” Cervical facet syndrome largely involves a joint in the posterior aspect of the cervical spine. It functions to provide stability and guide motion. cervical facet joint injection for cervical facet syndrome Cervical facet pain is common in patients who have sustained a whiplash injury, trauma to the neck or undergone cervical fusion. Physical examination is typically significant for restriction in range of motion along with pain. Each joint has a distinct referral pattern illustrated below. The Centeno-Schultz Clinic are experts at diagnosing and treating cervical facet dysfunction. Injury to the joint is not commonly detected by conventional radiographic studies.
Lateral epicondylitis otherwise known as tennis elbow is an overuse injury involving the extensor muscles that originate on the bony prominence (epicondyle) on the outside (lateral) aspect of the elbow. It is more properly termed tendinosis that specifically involves the origin of the extensor carpi radialis brevis muscle. In a study, Nirschl and Pettrone attributed the cause of lateral epicondylitis to be tearing in the origin of the extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle (1).
The extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) muscle originates from the lateral epicondyle. It functions to move the wrist so that the hand moves away from the palm and towards the thumb.
Golfer’s elbow involves tears in the ulnar collateral ligament and pain or soreness on the inside of the elbow. The bony bump you feel there is the medial epicondyle of the humerus (upper arm bone). There are five forearm muscles that attach at this point, all of which are involved in helping to flex or rotate the forearm and wrist. Pain can get worse when you throw a ball, grip a dumbbell, turn a screwdriver, and other movements that involve the fingers, hand, wrist, and/or elbow. Tennis elbow is similar, however, it refers to the outside of the elbow, at the lateral epicondyle.