Arm Pain

A cervical disc herniation can be a cause of pain that radiates down the arm, sometimes accompanied by numbness and tingling down into the fingertips, and sometimes muscle weakness as well. It usually develops in men and women between 30 and 50 years old. This is one of the most common cervical spine conditions treated by spine specialists. The herniated disc may occur from an injury or trauma to the spine, but it most commonly is a spontaneous development.

The arm pain occurs as a result of a disc in the cervical spine (the neck) pinching or pressing on a nerve, which causes pain to radiate down that nerve. Most cervical disc herniations extrude out to the side of the spinal canal and pinch the exiting nerve root at the next lower level of the spine.

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Cervical Disc Herniation - holding wrist


  • Weakness in the deltoid muscle in the upper arm

  • Weakness in the biceps (muscles in the front of the upper arms) and wrist extensor muscles

  • Weakness in the triceps (muscles in the back of the upper arm and extending to the forearm) and the finger extensor muscles

  • Weakness with handgrip

  • Numbness and tingling along with pain can radiate to the thumb side of the hand, down the triceps into the middle finger, or down the arm to the little finger side of the hand

  • Shoulder pain

This list covers some of the typical symptoms, but others may also occur. It is possible to have a cervical disc herniation with symptoms completely different from these. Discs in the cervical spine are usually not very large. However, even a small disc herniation can pinch the nerve and cause pain. The pain is usually greatest when the nerve is first pinched.

Cervical Disc Herniation - doctor checking patients wrist and arm


Since the symptoms vary widely, often, the best way to correctly diagnose a cervical disc herniation is with a diagnostic imaging test at a pain clinic such as the following:

  • MRI Scan

    The best test to use is an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan. An MRI scan can usually see any nerve
    root pinching caused by a herniated cervical disc.

  • CT Scan with Myelogram

    A CT (computed tomography) scan with myelogram may also be ordered, because it is more sensitive than the MRI and can see subtle pinching that might be hard to see on an MRI. This test is not usually the first one ordered because an injection is required to place an imaging dye into the patient. Therefore, it is best to try an MRI first in order to see if that will be enough. CT scans without myelogram will not do much good for diagnosing this condition so are not used.

  • EMG

    Occasionally, an EMG (Electromyography) may also be used. This is an electrical test that stimulates specific nerves to see if certain muscles may have been affected from a pinched nerve, which could indicate cervical disc herniation.

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