Numbness and Pain in the Arms and Hands

As I have mentioned in these articles, I often have different patients showing similar symptoms during the same period of time, as if there were symptoms of the month. In this last month, it was pain and numbness of the arms and hands. There were small differences, but what they all had in common was that the pain and numbness of the arms and hands were coming from problems in the neck and shoulders.

Due to the common usage of computers, many people experience pain and numbness of the hands and arms. Occasionally, there are some people who report limited range of motion of the fingers, as well. It is extremely difficult to maintain good posture while using a computer, particularly a laptop.

The nerves that control the hands and arms branch out from the spinal column through the sides of the neck. They travel from the neck to the shoulders near the clavicles, to the arms, the hands, and finally the fingertips. If there is any problem along this route, the nerve is impinged, and numbness or pain occurs.

There are two common problems that crop up along this nerve’s route. The first that comes to my mind is the narrowing of the space between vertebrae in the neck. Since the nerves are branched out through these spaces, the narrowing of these spaces causes impingement of the nerves. This often occurs to the aged when the vertebral discs are deteriorated. People with this pattern have pain in their necks, in addition to problems in their arms and hands.

The second problem is tightness of the muscles in the neck and shoulders due to bad posture and repetitive movements. Some portion of the nerves I described above travel through muscle tissues. If there is tightness in the muscles, it causes impingement of the nerves. Pain and numbness of the hands and arms due to excessive computer usage fall into this category. Also, people with jobs that require repetitive movements and manual dexterity, such as chefs and craftsmen, often have tight necks and shoulders. These conditions are called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. When they start experiencing numbness of the hands and pain in the arms, they ‘forget’ to mention that their necks and shoulders are chronically tight. They feel that these things come with the territory in their professions and that they have to learn to live with it. Well, you don’t have to. Acupuncture works great when it comes to softening tight muscles. In most cases, their conditions improve with just a few sessions.

Finally, coming back to computer usage – try to keep the screen level with your eyes in order to avoid tension in the neck and shoulders. It might be difficult to do so with a laptop, but some people use phone books to create the height necessary for the adjustment. Diagrams of a proper ergonomic computer/desk set-up should be available from your HR Department at work or found on the Internet. But the best treatment is prevention – try to stand up and stretch or move around, even briefly, every 15-20 minutes.