Problems with the neck, shoulder and arm are often called different things by patients: neuritis, bursitis, neuralgia, rheumatism, frozen shoulder, fibrosis, sprained, strained or sore muscles or “poor circulation.”
Some people may blame their shoulder (or other joint) problems on “old age” even though their other shoulder which doesn’t have any problems is just as old.
Let’s first explore what controls our shoulder, arm and hand:
The brain “talks” with the rest of the body through a vast telecommunications system made up of nerves. Nerves come out of the brain in a large bundle called the spinal cord and travel down our backs inside the spinal column.
As the nerves form the brain travel down our spinal cord they first have to pass through holes (foramina) between the spinal bones (vertebrae).
Some nerves go straight to their point of destination but some first mix with other nerves to form complicated nerve networks that anatomists call a nerve plexus.
We have a number of plexuses in our body: there’s the cervical plexus along each side of our neck, there’s the brachial plexus near our shoulder, the solar plexus near our stomach, the lumbar plexus in our lower back and many, many others. Here we’re going to discuss the brachial plexus.
The brachial plexus is made up of nerves which come out of the middle and lower neck and upper back. After they interconnect to form the brachial plexus they branch off to supply different areas, especially the shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, hands and fingers.
Brachial Plexus Injury
The most common form of brachial plexus damage is to the nerves that make up the brachial plexus as they exit the spinal column through the foramina plexus.
In the foramina the nerves are surrounded by a ring of bone and meninges (tough coverings) and if the ring becomes smaller the nerves may become compresses or “pinched”.
What causes the nerves to get “pinched”? Many things: long standing spinal stress, old injuries such as falls from childhood, new injuries such as sports mishaps, car accidents (especially whiplash – a situation where the head and neck are suddenly “snapped” forward and backward), arthritis, being twisted, pulled or shaken or even sleeping in an awkward position as well as many other stresses and strains of daily living.
Results of Brachial Plexus Injury
Depending on which brachial plexus nerves are damaged, different symptoms and problems may be experienced.
Neck pain or neck stiffness may be one of the first signs of brachial plexus damage. In some people the pain may radiate to the shoulder and down to the arm, wrist, hand, or finger.
Sometimes there’s extremity pain but not neck pain. Sometimes there’s no pain but numbness – a sure sign of nerve damage, and sometimes there’s pain in one area the brachial plexus goes to and numbness in the another.
“Pins and needles” of the fingers or other areas can be a sign of brachial plexus problems while weakness of the involved parts may also occur.
Because of the complicated way nerves interrelate, conditions such as headache, migraine, facial pain, dizziness, limited, painful or stiff motion of the head neck, throat conditions, thyroid and nasal problems and even epilepsy have been reported as being the caused by brachial plexus damage.
Lower back pain has been reported to be caused by cervical or neck spinal damage as well.
The most common approach to dealing with damage to the nerves of the brachial plexus is often a combination of medications: (pain killers or analgesics) and muscle relaxers.
In extreme cases, injections may be given directly into nerves or areas of pain. Surgery is a last resort
Chiropractic’s success with problems relating to spinal nerve injury and brachial plexus symptoms is well documented.
Physical therapy such as hot packs, cold packs, ultrasound, diathermy, hydroculators, whirlpool baths and traction are often called into play. .
As a general rule, it is wisest to explore drugless, non-surgiacal methods of healing first, before having to undergo more extreme routes of drugs and surgery.
In actual practice many people go to chiropractors after they’ve gone through the medical run-around and are fed up and tired with the drugs they’ve been taking.
Too often drugs only give you a temporary relief of symptoms – after they’ve worn off the problems come back.
In acute cases, however, it is sometimes necessary to use drugs, but one must be prudent about such therapies.
Even if your fender-bender or fall did not cause you any great pain or symptoms it would be wise to have your spine checked to see if any vertebrae have been “knocked out of place” or subluxated.
By having you and your family’s spine checked on a periodic basis many of the problems caused by an unhealthy spinal column can be corrected and even prevented before they become serious.
An ancient Chinese medical saying is: “If people paid attention to their little health problems, they wouldn’t have big health problems.”